I truthfully do not enjoy talking about the monster in my life that once upon a time sent me home early from my LDS mission in Taiwan and almost completely devoured me when I came home. However, I want to write my story not only as a record for myself, but also as a potential fragment of hope to others suffering. Stress and anxiety come in many forms—over 40 million people are affected by some sort of it in the US, some forms healthy and some threatening; I simply lost control of mine and fall into the latter form of it. This illness is very serious if you don’t seek the correct help and appropriate care. This is my story.
I remember it like it was just yesterday. The bedside alarm rang at 6:25am signifying the time for my mission companion and I to get up and go on a morning run before breakfast and studies. This particular morning felt strange…nothing short of peculiar. I was at a very happy point on my mission the night before, but something was slowly eating away at my insides. As I tried to muster up the thoughts which motivated me throughout my low times on my mission—my family, memories of times with friends, finally completing my mission, watching basketball—they all somehow transformed into negativity and created a sensation down my chest I could not contain. Droplets of sweat drizzled down my back, which, for the first time, was not due to the 82% humidity from the island of Taiwan. Days went on and every muscle in my body seemed to clamp up. What was this? Did I catch a virus? Why did it come and go sporadically throughout the day? I only have a few months left of my mission. Nothing is going to stop me from making it to the finish line.
Days turned into weeks, to then months of fighting this unknown. I thought to myself, “Time cures all things, I’ll feel better tomorrow. I’m almost done with my mission.” One missionary told me I had knots the size of a large fist in my back—the pain was excruciating as he tried to massage them out. I became afraid of going outside and teaching lessons that I had been doing happily the past 20+ months. I specifically remember a time right after eating dinner when we had a plan to ride our bikes to a park to contact people and invite them to hear our message. On the way, a cloud of darkness hit my mind and I looked down at my hands on my bike handles. “Should I just let go and fall?” I never had thoughts of suicide, but irrational ones like this often floated to the surface. I describe this specific time as the darkest part of my life and a “living Hell.”
I became nearly bedridden from the aching in every single muscle of my body and all of the fears developed in the short months of dealing with this. I had tried everything to keep myself going; I wasn’t going home. Don’t believe me? My mom packed a large container of multi-vitamins in my bag to take throughout my 2-year mission. I took one and felt normal again!!! This high eventually faded not too long after. I later swallowed 5 more pills just to make myself available to the work and not confined to my bed. In retrospect, that was obviously a foolish decision, but I was THAT desperate to get better. My mind also wasn’t in a healthy state of functioning correctly.
I knew I was just slowing down the work, so I officially retired as a full-time missionary in my heart shortly after. My mission president notified my parents and I received an email from my dad that gave me some clearer answers to what I was fighting. My family, including most of my grandparents, have suffered from a chemical imbalance at one point in their life. I’m not a doctor, but from my understanding, your brain has neurotransmitters that, when unbalanced, can cause psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, etc. My whole family has or is currently taking medications to help cope with the issue. My dad said it was hereditary and was not surprised I was having some of these symptoms.
I wasn’t completely at peace with my decision, however. I felt as though God gave me a trial and I was too weak to overcome it. I remember going into a room in our apartment, locking the door and kneeling in prayer, begging for some form of comfort. When I opened my eyes, I looked up at the sky. It was a rare day in Taipei—the sun was out and the sky was clear and blue. I looked up to Heaven and was overcome by an indescribable feeling…a feeling that was foreign to me for many, many months. The only words to describe it are: special, peaceful, hopeful. I was coming home a month and a half short of two years.
Finally seeing my family after 2 years was obviously an instant high for me emotionally. This high lasted a few days, but, like every single positive thought before, was eaten up and thrown into the pile of negativity. It was scary. I was finally home, but I had no desire to participate in the activities that once made me happy. Every person started to bother me; I didn’t want to be around anybody. All I wanted to do was lock myself downstairs in the dark and watch TV. It took months before I finally felt normal again after seeing doctors and adjusting to medications. I write the word normal in italics because I took this for granted. I was always blessed with a healthy body growing up, so I naturally overlooked the gratitude I should have had before my battle with anxiety and depression. Health, in my opinion, is possibly the most important aspect in our lives because without it, we cannot function properly. And if we cannot function, it affects every other aspect of our life. There hasn’t been a night that has gone by where I haven’t expressed my gratitude for health in prayer after my strenuous battle with depression and anxiety.
My title reads: My Battle with a Friend and Foe. How can such a damaging and exhausting illness be a FRIEND? Well, I, too, took awhile to come around to calling it that. And I’m still trying to fully forgive it for what it did to me. As with many trials, we often look back and remember how bad it felt. How many of us wonder why bad things happen and stay angry because we fail to find the logic to support the answer? How many of us look up to heaven with a fist and wonder, “Why ME?!” On the contrary, there are many who look back and credit the trial for making them who they are today. There are those who can stay positive through thick and thin because they are full of hope and faith that the future will ALWAYS get better. And there are those that can kneel in prayer and thank God for the trials they are given. I want to live my life in line with the second set of statements.
Since dealing with anxiety and depression, I’ve made positive changes to my life that I probably wouldn’t have made if I never were attacked by this monster. I exercise a lot more because it makes me feel better—I have made a habit of exercising 6 times a week. I eat healthier because an apple a day truly keeps the doctor away. I have taken up meditation and breathing techniques to help me cope with hopeless thoughts and to learn how to control my mind. I have also been able to support and counsel with a few people that are dealing with stress and anxiety right now. I have become a more humble and thankful man. Without battling my enemy, I never would have reaped the benefits of making a new friend from this battle. I owe a lot of my development and growth to this horrible, evil, exhausting, wonderful, amazing friend.
I am still dealing with stress and anxiety today and probably will for the rest of my life, but I’m ready to take on the challenge and eager to learn more. And if you are dealing with this illness, please do not give up. There are positive things waiting to happen in your life. There are people and places you need to see and meet. You have more potential than you will ever know. And most importantly, you are NEVER in this fight alone.