"I have learned so much about this illness and myself, and I also pray that that knowledge will help others get through their hard times. That is the purpose of (my) blog. Let's help each other."
I mentioned my story a little in the introduction post of this blog, but since I have been home from my mission for 4 years today I figured it would be fitting to share more, some of which I haven't ever told anyone. It's kind of scary to lay it all out there but I'm trying to be brave and vulnerable with the goal to help someone else.
It took me 7 months after I came home to share what had happened on my mission. I didn't like talking about it before then and even after it was hard, but at least people knew. I will share what I wrote back then from my personal blog and then go on to tell what has happened since.
"For the past few days I have felt like it's finally time to share my story. And that story is the reason I came home from my mission a little earlier than planned. I feel like sharing this will help lift a little bit of the weight I'm still carrying off, at least that's my hope.
This past year has honestly been the hardest year of my life. I write this with occasional tears streaming down my cheeks and a heart that will probably never be fully whole again. This is personal, but I get asked about it constantly and it seems to come up in one way or another and that's another reason I have for sharing it. Plus if someone can benefit from it, then I am that much more grateful.
I was diagnosed with anxiety in June of last year. I started having some physical illnesses on my mission in May and came to the diagnosis of anxiety, which was really hard on me. I had no idea that anxiety could cause you to throw up, have stomach and chest pains, digestion problems, no ability to sleep, and panic attacks. It all makes sense now, especially after taking an Abnormal Psychology class last semester and learning all about disorders, but back then I had no idea about mental illnesses.
I went to the doctor several times in May. It was frustrating not knowing what was going on. Some thought I had IBS and when a Doctor introduced mental problems I was just beyond confused. I talked to my mission president's wife, our medical advisor, and it was established I had anxiety. I received permission from my stake president at home and my parents to start taking medication. I was really against it at first because I didn't want to rely on it but it was suggested that this was the only thing that could help and I really wanted to stay on my mission, as hard as it was getting.
This is a journal entry from my mission on June 27, 2012: "I couldn't sleep tonight, Sister Trayner told me to write to let all my thoughts and feelings out so that's what I'm going to do. This will probably be all over the place but I guess that's the point? Well... I'm shocked to be quite honest. I never thought this would happen to me, and least of all places on my mission. It's heart breaking. To have wanted to do this my whole life, to dream about it, and to get here and have it be the hardest thing I've ever done and it to be so hard on me that I have to take medication to cope... it hurts. It's like I'm not strong enough to do this, to be a missionary. It makes me wonder if I really am able to do this. Any missionary could come in and what I do, so what am I needed for? I'm stuck, at least that's how I feel. I'm a little scared too. What if I can't get over this? I don't know how to handle it and fix it. What if I can't? I feel like being diagnosed with anxiety is giving me more. I also feel as if I'm losing myself. I don't understand why I have been given this trial, but Heavenly Father does and I guess that's what really matters. Sometimes I wish I could borrow His spiritual eyes and see what He sees. Hopefully one day I'll understand why all of this is happening. Is it because Satan is trying to stop me? If he is, am I going to let him win? I don't know if I have much fight left in me. I'm lacking faith in myself. Can I really do this? It's just this never ending spiral and I don't know how to make it stop so I can climb back up from how far I've already gone down."
That's how I felt and sometimes how I still feel. It still scares me at times. And it hasn't necessarily gotten any easier, I have just learned how to deal with it and accept, for the most part, that this has happened and I may have to deal with it the rest of my life. And after that day in June things only got worse.
I was transferred to the valley to be closer to the mission home so I could get the help I needed. My companion and I white washed an area and that made things a little more stressful but I was able to see doctors and a counselor once a month, although that proved to not be enough to help my illness either, but it was nice to cry to someone who was trying to understand and help. I was prescribed with a medication in Laredo that was supposed to take up to 6 weeks to work and after more than 6 weeks had gone by I wasn't improving. So it was back to the doctor and he prescribed something else that I wasn't allowed to take as a missionary because of its maintenance. Because I wasn't able to take it he referred me to a psychiatrist. That was really hard on me. I was there with a bunch of kids who had obvious mental disabilities and felt like I should be put in a mental hospital or something. It was a stab to the soul. He gave me another prescription that was supposed to take 3-4 weeks and after that time had gone by I still wasn't doing better.
At this point I was just a wreck. I developed depression with my anxiety and struggled with almost everything. I always thought that mental illnesses were choices, and that you could just snap out of it but I couldn't have been more wrong. It's not like that at all. It almost controls you... it's not you. I would wake up in the morning with no desire to do anything or see anyone. I didn't care about a thing, not missionary work, not the people. It was horrible because I knew I should and I was disappointing so many people but I didn't care about that either. I had no desire to do anything. And I could never sleep for more than a few hours at a time, I was emotional all over the place, I couldn't sit still to save my life, I wasn't me.
At this point I had discussed going home with my mission president. At first that's all I could really think about. After talking to him, he helped me realize that it wasn't my decision to make. I will forever be grateful to him for giving me a kick in the butt when I needed them most. He let me talk to my Mom, which was more of me listening and crying as she tried to speak strength and love to me. A couple more weeks went by and it was finally decided for me to come home. I knew I wasn't going to get better in the field but that didn't make coming home any easier. I was able to finish the transfer and was put in a trio for the last two weeks. I had a cold those last two weeks but I felt a little better because the end was in sight.
For the first few days of being home I was doing so much better. It was beyond wonderful to see my family again and have their support. I was able to see my doctor and be put on a medication that finally helped me! But those days didn't last very long... I was still pretty sick, physically and mentally. I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning, there was no point. I thought ending my life would be best because then I'd be in a happier place and wouldn't have to deal with this crap anymore. I didn't want to do anything because I had no desire to and I just didn't know what to do with myself. I was afraid of talking to people for what they may think and the questions they would ask. No one really understood, they would try and I appreciated that but it didn't help. And it's no one's fault, but it made me feel alone and apart from the world I once knew. I felt ashamed of what I felt I didn't accomplish and what other people thought I came home for or did wrong as well. It was as if I was a failure. And no one likes to feel like a failure, especially when you feel like you failed your Savior.
I started seeing a counselor every week and that I think made the most difference, besides my meds, in the end. He taught me how to deal with my anxiety and realize what was causing it. (Now that I know what causes it I can control it more but that doesn't mean it's completely gone. I still have it. It's not all just about my thoughts, some of it is just how I'm wired so to speak.) I saw improvement over weeks and eventually was able to stop seeing my counselor, but continue with the medication.
One of the biggest helps through all of this has been the man of my dreams, my husband. On our first date he asked me why I came home and surprisingly I felt like I could tell him (I had only been home for 2 months at that point). He was very understanding and sweet about it all. He didn't try to "fix me" as other people did or look at me as damaged goods, but he loved me. I have felt at times that he is part of the reason I came home when I did, so I could meet up with him again and eventually marry him. If it was for him then it was all worth it.
For a long time I wondered if I would ever feel like my old self again. Through E-mails from my mission my Mom could tell that I wasn't myself and said she wished people from my mission could know the Allyson Harris that she knows. I don't think I'll ever completely be that person again, and you're not necessarily supposed to be the same person you were before your mission, but I changed in a different way. And I feel like that gets rubbed in my face constantly, not on purpose of course. Its every farewell and homecoming, every time someone asks about my mission or talks about theirs, church lessons, mission reunions, etc. It's like I'm getting salt sprinkled in that never fully healing wound. I didn't come home with that fire that RM's come home with. I came home and hid. My homecoming wasn't the typical homecoming. It was one of happiness but not the happiness I wanted it to be. My mission president said it'd be something I'll always have to live with and I knew that but I thought maybe it'd get easier.... I talked to one of my amazing cousins a few weeks ago who came home early because of his knee and he's been home for 8 years now and it hasn't gotten easier for him. It wasn't what I wanted to hear but talking to him about it helped me so much. And it kind of hit me that maybe that's why this happens to us... so that we can share our experience with others who go through the same thing. There have been a few people I have been able to talk to and feel like I have been able to help because we went through similar experiences. In multiple blessings I received on my mission it was mentioned a few times that this would help my future family, so I'll cling to that as well.
I have had moments where I wish I did not have to go through this on my mission but something tells me that it was better that I did. That it was better because of the person that I was when I went through all that - a missionary, a servant of the Lord, a representative of Jesus Christ. I believe things could have gotten a lot worse for me if I was anywhere besides my mission, as hard as that is sometimes for me to admit. But Heavenly Father knew me then and He knows me now and I trust in His timing now more than ever.
And the most important reason why this may have happened was for me to become closer to my Savior. He has done so much for me, for all of us, and if I have the opportunity to experience just a little of what He did then I am grateful and better off for it. There is nothing greater than being able to walk in His shoes, even if it's just a step or two. I have greater appreciation and understanding of His love and sacrifice for me. He experienced all that I have experienced, and will experience, but it is privilege to say the same about Him. And I'm not saying that I get what He did or know fully, because I don't, but I am just that much closer to because of what I went through. Because of the trial He so lovingly placed before me. I couldn't have made it through this without Him.
That's my story... but more than that, it's my life. And it's ok because I wouldn't change anything I've learned from this experience. I am who I am today because of it. I'm stronger and refined into the woman Heavenly Father wants me to be, and that is all that matters."
3 and a half years have gone by since I wrote all that. A lot has changed and nothing has changed since then. I am a lot better at talking about what happened on my mission, although I still can't seem to without tears, and have accepted it all, but occasionally I still feel that I was "cheated". I stopped taking medication in my third trimester with my little girl who was born July of last year, and haven't been on it since (although there have been times when I've wanted to be).
I mostly have ups and downs with my anxiety and depression. It would flare at the end of semesters with being busy with finals and projects, and after my little girl was born for the first few months. Those were long periods of time but there are days that are also worse than others. I can just feel it sometimes, and certain things make it worse that I've learned to recognize. I feel that right now, for the most part, I have it under control. When I have hard days I realize that they will end and I can talk myself through things that cause me to struggle.
There have definitely been improvements over the years but at the same time I have also gotten worse, it's a balancing act. I honestly HATE the person that I am sometimes because of my anxiety and depression. I hate what it does to me. I hate how it makes me feel. I hate that it makes me want to hide from anyone and everyone. I hate that I can't breathe sometimes because I feel so helpless. I hate that it limits me, that I can't be the girl that I once was. For example: this summer at Girl's Camp we had the opportunity to repel into a mine shaft, something the pre-mission Ally would have done in two seconds and smiled through the whole thing, but this Ally almost started crying and having a panic attack just thinking about it. I kept thinking I could get hurt or die and that consumed my mind. Also this past summer I went to Minnetonka Cave in Idaho near Bear Lake with my in-laws and I had to tell my husband that I might have a panic attack because the thought of going into a dark cave and getting trapped made it hard for me to breathe, but I made it to the very end and back out (I was proud of myself for that, kind of sad that that makes me proud of myself). And just last week I was in NYC with my family and we were going through the Lincoln Tunnel, which is 1.5 miles long, and I almost started hyperventilating because I had thoughts of the tunnel coming down on me and being trapped in there with no way to get out. In all of those situations I have to consciously tell myself that everything will be ok and that isn't going to happen and just hope that will override my illness. Those are things that NEVER crossed my mind before. Why do they now? Every little chest pain or abdominal pain is some sort of disease that's going to send me to the ER. I can't sleep at night because of all the things running through my mind. I stay at my parent's on weekends Dan works so that I don't have to be alone at night. I'm convinced I'm going to die on an airplane. I will never be a good enough wife and mother. I cry for no reason. I am a mess.
Some days I can't talk myself out of those thoughts and they are there constantly. Some days I watch my daughter play by herself while I just lay on my bed or the couch and wish I didn't have to deal with life. Some days I don't eat anything. Some days I eat everything. Some days I cry for hours. Some days I feel like my life is pointless and I fail at everything.
And other days I can help someone who is feeling all those things I feel. Other days I actually make dinner for my family. Other days I go out into the world. Other days I find something to do that will make someone else's day better. Other days I remember my Savior and that He knows how I feel.
1 Corinthians 10:13
I rarely share these things with others, sometimes I don't even tell my husband when I'm having a hard time, because I feel like people still don't know what to say or do. And I understand that, so instead of making things awkward or listening to things people think I want to hear I just keep it to myself. That's sometimes the hardest part... feeling so alone in this fog of torment. And feeling like nothing helps, because honestly sometimes nothing does and enduring is HARD. To be frank, this illness ruins your life because it runs your life.
I tell myself that if I have to deal with this the rest of my life then it'll be ok because one day I won't have to anymore. One day I will be free of this body that I don't understand. All that is unfair will be made right through the Atonement. That is what I cling to when I can.
It reminds me of the second verse of O My Father...
For a wise and glorious purpose Thou has placed me here on earth and withheld the recollection of my former friends and birth; Yet ofttimes a secret something whispered, "You're a stranger here," And I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere.
I thank my Heavenly Father for bringing me out of the dark abyss I felt on my mission and after, and I pray that I never have to go back there again, even though sometimes I feel like I'm heading there. I have learned so much about this illness and myself, and I also pray that that knowledge will help others get through their hard times. That is the purpose of this blog. Let's help each other.