Editor’s note • This article discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or chat at 988Lifeline.org.
May 2020-January 2022
My anxieties around serving a mission reach back before my service date. When I was 17, I began to experience suicide ideation because I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I felt cornered and hopeless. It was not until I was 19 that I began online Missionary Training Center training on May 13, 2020.
I was assigned to serve in a nation in Central America but was reassigned to Dallas in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. My anxiety and subsequent depression worsened about a year into my mission. My mission president was always extremely compassionate, validating and reassuring, and always made me feel like I was enough as a missionary. He suggested that I meet with the mission therapist. …At the same time, I was experiencing some anxiety and stress because a loved one came out to me as queer during this time period. When I brought it up with the mission therapist, he began to argue with me and try to convince me that the person wasn’t actually queer — that their feelings were a result of a poor parental relationship. I was floored, sickened and anxious.
My anxiety and self-loathing continued because of my unproductivity and my standing as a missionary. I began to experience suicidal thoughts again, and the intrusive thoughts that came with it became really difficult to ignore.
At our next interview, I told my mission president this. He recognized all my efforts, and that none of those things had worked for me. He agreed that it was time for me to go, with four months left of my service, and decide whether to finish as a service missionary. He called my parents and told them I was an incredible missionary, and he told me that if I decided to be done, then that was valid and enough and sufficient. I had finished my mission. I was sitting at home in my living room 48 hours later.
May 2019-January 2020
I felt the Spirit tell me about six months into my mission that I was going home soon. Around this time, my right knee also started hurting after I went hiking with my companion. I thought maybe I had injured it and so I called the mission nurse for advice. She told me to walk less and ice it more, which I did, but I was really worried this would be the reason I’d go home. So I probably called her every week about it.
One night, about four months later, she was telling me that it sounded like it was probably nothing. She suggested we do some deep breaths together. I agreed, but as soon as we started, I was launched into what multiple mental health professionals have told me is stressed-induced psychosis.
I remember losing control of my speech and body, and not knowing how to get it back. I remember crying and screaming and saying things that did not make any sense. I remember my companion trying to ask me questions to bring me back to reality and hearing my mouth reply with things that were not answers. I remember drawing on my face with lipstick and singing something.
The nurse called the mission president and my companions called the mission therapist.
I remember the sister training leaders showing up and packing me an overnight bag, telling me I needed to go to the hospital. The hospital was a couple of hours away so by the time we got there, I was lucid again.
While there, we met with a psychiatrist on FaceTime. He asked me what medications I was on and said it’s usually not recommended for someone to take them both together. One medicine I had been on for about two years, the other I started on my mission. He suggested I stop taking both medicines as soon as possible and then get in with a regular psychiatrist to see what my non-drug-related symptoms are like. This meant that I had to go home.
From the beginning, the expectations and relentless stress were far too much to handle, and I developed extremely depressive symptoms in the England Missionary Training Center, and while it was noted that I seemed “down,” it was never investigated. These symptoms alleviated when I first reached the field, but worsened following my 12 weeks with an abusive mission trainer. I was assigned a well-meaning Latter-day Saint counselor who initially pushed for a depression diagnosis after just one session, and I was instructed to begin taking antidepressants if I wanted to stay out on the mission. I pushed for a professional opinion and shortly after was seen by a specialist who gave an obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety diagnosis.
I began cognitive behavioral therapy, which was life-changing, but my sessions were cut short after just three sessions due to transfers. I was not given any more professional help for the rest of my mission but had weekly calls with the assigned Latter-day Saint therapist, which probably saved me from suicidal ideation and even worse self-harm. My OCD had many themes, including violent imagery and moral scrupulosity, which was worsened by reading the scriptures daily and its depictions of judgment day and the damnation of the wicked.
My mission president went above and beyond for me, regularly checking up once he identified that this was a serious problem and made many allowances, including changing companions to allow me to stay. He extended the offer to go home on a number of occasions, but I was terrified of the idea of somehow “failing,” so I always refused.
The mission culture, however, remained one of extreme self-sacrifice, with district leaders sharing inspirational stories of missionaries who cut short their personal, email and meal times in order to carry out missionary work. I was so stressed by this never-ending expectation to be a good-enough missionary that I would sit in meetings scratching my arms until I left raised marks. I had constant headaches and lost a lot of weight during this same time.
I returned in 2018 with zero emotional resilience and dysfunctional social skills, both of which have never fully returned. Due to this experience and many other things I encountered, I lost my faith entirely, making the decision to distance myself informally as of last year.
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