"There are still days that are hard when I think about my mission, but I have found people who know what I have been through. I have loving friends who know me and support me. I know that when there are hard days, I can go find people to talk to."
My name is Jay Thomas Whitehead, - J.T. for short. I served in the Tucson, Arizona Mission, Spanish speaking. I am an Early Returned Missionary, and I came home because of depression.
I was scared to go Spanish speaking. I tried learning Spanish in school and completely failed at that. I would later find out that speaking Spanish was one of my favorite parts of my mission but let's go to day one…
I went to the Mexico CCM (MTC). I was in a new place where I didn't understand the language, and I was getting a little homesick. My CCM companion seemed really cool at first.
My second night at the CCM all the Elders in my house got together to talk. We started to talk about early-returned missionaries and how they have a hard time coming home, and we wanted to know what we could do to help them. There is this one quote that I remember: “direction, not velocity, when it comes to your mission”. After all of those conversations about early-returned missionaries I never thought that would apply to me, but I was wrong.
As the weeks in the CCM continued, my homesickness was still there - it didn’t get any worse, but it was still there. I was told that the CCM would be a fun place to just focus on learning about the gospel, but that’s not how it was for me.
My companion had this weird characteristic: when he felt uncomfortable, he would make fun of other people. Who is the easiest to make fun of? The person you are supposed to be with all day, every day. As days went by, all the other guys in my District started making fun of me as well. I was the scapegoat for all of them. All I needed while feeling homesick was to feel loved, but instead, I got made fun of. To my great surprise, and one of the reasons I stayed in the CCM, the Hermanas (sisters) started showing how much they cared about me, and helped the Elders to not make fun of me. After this happened, the days got better, I was less homesick, and I was happier. However, about a week later something really difficult happened. One of the Hermanas was being sent home early. This Sister helped make our District amazing! She helped us feel the love of Christ, and she helped me stay on my mission. It was a big hit to me emotionally. Why would the greatest missionary in our District be sent home?
After this Sister left, the Elders if my District started making fun of me worse than they had before. One day I woke up with shaving cream on my face and a mop in my bed. Another day my bed was torn apart and mostly thrown outside. I was having a hard time going through all of this! One day I stopped eating and I had no appetite, so I started talking to a member of the CCM Presidency and the Counselor of the CCM. They both recommended that I started taking medicine. I was hesitant at first, but I started taking them anyway. Everything eventually seemed to be getting better. I only had to survive a couple more days, then I would be going to someplace better - the mission field!
The day I got into the field everything was kind of a shock, but it felt good to be back in the USA. The next day I was able to meet my trainer, and to this day he is one of my greatest friends. The first two weeks of the field was amazing! I was learning Spanish at a faster rate than ever, I was meeting new people, and most important of all - the Elders in my new District did not make fun of me, and they loved me like my Savior would have.
After those first two weeks however, my “greenie fire” wore off. I would later realize that my depression was starting to return. Days would go by and my highs wouldn’t be as high, and my lows wouldn't be as low. The psychiatrist I was required to meet with recommended that I talk with my President and his wife about what I was experiencing. I thought I would wait for my first interview with my Mission President, but after multiple scheduling errors, we ended up meeting four weeks later than we should have.
When we were finally able to meet, we talked about all the ways that a mission can help a missionary with problems like I was experiencing. I said “let's try it all, cause I want to get better.” I got a higher dose of my medication, and I got permission to go see a counselor, but nothing was working. Days would go by, and I slowly started losing my ability to feel emotions at all.
One day my companion and I went to see an investigator who was nine years old who had finished reading the Book of Mormon in only a couple of days. A normal missionary would be so happy about that, and would what to share the gospel with him more, but I felt nothing. No happiness, no joy. It was as if I was staring at a number, nothing else. On that same day we had an investigator who was doing amazing with the lessons decide to suddenly drop us, and he told us he didn't need God. Again, a normal missionary would have been sad about this, but I felt nothing.
Weeks would go by where I couldn't feel the Spirit. Every night I would wake up constantly, and had very little sleep. I stopped tasting food, and I was just eating to eat. I was getting so depressed, and nothing was working. No matter how hard I worked, it didn’t help me feel any emotions. It got so bad that I thought about running away, hurting myself, or worse - suicide. My Mission President asked me to really pray about going home and I knew I needed to. My President and the Mission Office agreed with me, and I was sent home two days later.
I can still remember exactly what happened the morning I left the Mission: I had everything packed the night before; I had to wake up at 6:00 am to get to my plane on-time; and I said goodbye to my trainer - my friend who stood beside me every day, and helped me every possible opportunity he had. I gave him a hug, but there was no emotion to back it up. As I was going to the airport to get dropped off, I didn't say a word. When I got to the TSA security, my Zone Leader said, “Remember, you served an honorable mission”. I picked up my suit cases, and when I turned around I saw that they had already left. I was alone. I can honestly say that that was the worst moment of my life. In that moment I felt as though my companion was gone, my President was gone, the Spirit was gone, my Savior was gone, and my God, my Father, was gone.
I Was Alone…
I went from Arizona to Utah in the middle of Winter, and was not expecting the snow. When I came down the stairs to get my luggage, I saw two families waiting there for their missionaries. They all got excited and then stopped when they saw me. I wasn't the person they were looking for. I walked through the middle of both families, and only one person said “Welcome home, Elder.” I asked myself, “Why is it ‘welcome?’” and “Why am I ‘home?’” My airplane came a little early, so I beat my family there. We went straight to the Stake President’s office for me to be released. I couldn’t take off my tags; my mother had to take of them for me. I had spent years dreaming about going on a mission and being a missionary. I was so happy to be able to preach repentance to as many people as would hear. The moment that my tag was taken off was the same moment my dream was killed. We then went to go see a doctor to change my medications, we went home, I saw my dog, I walked into my room (which was somewhat changed into a game room), and then I closed my door and cried for hours. Why was I home???
After I got home I stayed in the same pair of sweatpants for a week straight. I went to a family party two days after I got home and started having panic attacks. I couldn't do anything. I couldn’t leave my house in fear of someone seeing me. I had this fear that because I came home early, people I knew wouldn't want to go on a mission. I had so many questions: Did I not have enough faith to be healed? Was in my fault that I came home? Was I a disgrace to my family and Father in heaven? Why, why did I come home?? I was so alone, and no one knew what it was like
I remembered that I still had the Sister’s email who returned home early from my District in the CCM, so I emailed her. She emailed back and told me that there was a support group up in Sandy, Utah that I should go to with her, and I did. It was hard, but of all the places that I had been to since being home, the support group was the only place I didn't feel alone. I spent the next couple of months just surviving until I could go to the support groups. There was a support group in Utah County, but whenever I went I was the only person there, so I felt alone. I spent most of my time going to the support group and being with other ERM just so I could feel better.
One day my sister came to me with a picture of a flyer from our friend up in Logan, Utah who was going to college there. In her institute there was a flyer for an Early-Returned Missionary conference. I knew there was going to be a lot of ERMs there, and that I wouldn't feel alone. I signed up immediately. When I was at the conference I met so many friends! I could be myself, and I didn’t feel like a failure and as though I was alone. I also learned about a program where ERMs could help other missionaries returning earlier than anticipated. I knew I wanted to help people not feel alone and as though they failed (like I felt), so I signed up for the ERM Mentor Program
There are still days that are hard when I think about my mission, but I have found people who know what I have been through. I have loving friends who know me and support me. I know that when there are hard days, I can go find people to talk to.
If you are an ERM and you are feeling alone and want a friend, please contact us! I will be there ASAP! With this program I have been able to find happiness - in spite of returning home earlier than anticipated. I want to say this again - If you are an ERM and are feeling alone and would like a friend, I will do my best to be there for you