Sunday, November 2, 2014

Missionary Anxiety

A few weeks ago I said in an email newsletter than Anxiety was the new plague. I don't have to tell most of you this. You all know someone or you have been or are that someone who is struggling. 

While on my tour of the country I met and talked to a lot of people. I already knew that 85% of the work LDS social services does is with missionaries with anxiety. But while I was out there I met some of them, and their families.

I met Steve Waters at a Kundalini event and he told me about his daughter. He said, "we never knew Madi struggled with anxiety until her mission."

Apparently Madi didn't either. I met her a few days later at a class I taught in Orem. Then her dad sent me a copy of her homecoming talk. It is brilliant, courageous, beautiful. I am pasting only the relevant parts below (skipping all the sweet mission stories to get to the good stuff.)

I invite you to read it and then at the end I will unfold my plan for changing the world. :)

I’m going to switch gears a bit now. If my comment at the beginning of my talk about leaving on my mission eight months ago didn’t give it away, I am home earlier than expected from my mission. I want to speak about this because the process and experience surrounding my early return has also increased my testimony about my Heavenly Father and His restored gospel. For nearly my entire mission I struggled with anxiety and depression. This is something that I didn’t realize I had – at least not at this level. In the process of trying to figure out what was going on and what I could do, there was a point when my mission president asked me if this might be homesickness.
I said to him, “No. I moved to and lived in New York for 18 months starting when I was 19 years old. I found jobs and started my own business. I spent a Christmas there alone, in an apartment, eating take-out Chinese food. I don’t think this is homesickness. I know what it is like to miss my family and I know how to persevere through hard times.”
This anxiety and depression, however, was different. This was crippling. This was worse than anything I’d ever experienced. It continued month after month, day after day, and, more specifically, minute after minute. I felt like I was going to break into pieces that could not be put back together.  
For a long time I thought that once I got the missionary lessons down and I wasn’t afraid to walk up to someone on the street and start a conversation, that things would get easier. But it didn’t and I kept putting off how bad it had gotten. I realized that wasn’t the case when I got to the point where I could (on the good days) literally chase someone down to talk to them about the gospel – obviously not everyone, you have to listen to the promptings about who to chase down the street and who not to chase down the street.  
So a few experiences happened that helped me to realize I needed to take seriously getting this taken care of. I weighed the options with my Heavenly Father. Over several weeks I saw and I felt strongly that I could serve Him better if I had this under control rather than going on for another ten months not taking care of myself and only getting worse.

I got a blessing there in California from a member of the stake presidency (he was the bishop in the ward when I first got there). In that blessing he talked about how the main reason for Heavenly Father wanting me to come out there was to realize that I deal with this. Before my mission I don’t think I wanted to face that something was wrong. But God knew sending me out there would put it in my face every second of every day and I had to learn how to deal with it on top of being a missionary.  
So Heavenly Father and I had a little chat – actually, we probably had about a million little chats. And we both come to the conclusion that going home was okay, that I am not an awful person for wanting to get this taken care of, and that He wants me to get this taken care of. In other words, this wasn’t a rash decision. It was a matter of many prayers. I know that Heavenly Father is supportive of my decision. This is clear to me and has been clear to me everyday since being home.  
I didn’t want to leave the work in the California Riverside Mission. On the days that the depression and anxiety weren’t bothering me, I LOVED BEING A MISSIONARY. Even on the days that they were there, I LOVED BEING A MISSIONARY. But I know that if I kept pushing it aside and not learning how to deal with this in a healthy way, that I would have come home a mad woman.  
I don’t think it was any coincidence that I was in a ward where there were many women who dealt with anxiety and depression just like me. Nor do I think it was a coincidence that I was in a ward where the dad of a family I was extremely close to committed suicide because of how bad his anxiety had become. It was numerous things like this that testified to me that I was supposed to be there, that I was called to that area, and that I was kept in that area for so long for a reason. Heavenly Father had a lot of work for me to do there.  
My dad shared with me a quote from Parker Palmer, a Quaker man who wrestled with depression, and I found great comfort in his words. He said:  
"Darkness is not the whole of the story – every pilgrimage has passages of loveliness and joy – but it is the part of the story most often untold. When we finally escape the darkness and stumble into the light, it is tempting to tell others that our hope never flagged, to deny those long nights we spent cowering in fear.  
The experience of darkness has been essential to my coming into selfhood, and telling the truth about that fact helps me stay in the light. But I want to tell that truth for another reason as well: many young people today journey in the dark, as the young always have, and we elders do them a disservice when we withhold the shadowy parts of our lives. When I was young, there were very few elders willing to talk about the darkness; most of them pretended that success was all they had ever known. As the darkness began to descend on me in my early twenties, I thought I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure. I did not realize that I had merely embarked on a journey toward joining the human race.” 
 pp. 18-19, Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak  
I can’t say that my hope never flagged and that there weren’t long nights that I spent cowering in fear. But I know that I have not developed a terminal case of failure and I know that Heavenly Father loves those of us, and works with us, who aren’t perfect.
I recently started reading a book by Brene Brown. In it she says:  
“Numb the dark and you numb the light.”
“Hope is a function of struggle.” 
I know that none of us are who we are today without struggle and without experiencing some darkness in our life. I do not want to numb the light, and so I wrestle with the darkness and I remind myself that hope comes from that struggle.  
I got home from my mission prior to General Conference and I especially appreciated Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk in which he talked about a woman who struggled with the darkness. I’ll quote some of it:  
“At age 18, Jane discovered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The joy and hope of the restored gospel penetrated her heart, and she accepted the invitation to be baptized. For the first time, light entered her life, and she saw a bright path before her. She left the darkness of her world and decided to attend school a great distance away from her abuser. At last she felt liberated from an environment of darkness and evil—free to enjoy the Savior’s sweet peace and miraculous healing.  
However, years later, after her abuser had died, Jane was again troubled by the horrible events of her youth. Profound sadness and anger threatened to destroy the wonderful light she had found in the gospel. She realized that if she allowed that darkness to consume her, her tormentor would have a final victory. 
[This part was especially important for me to hear]She sought counseling and medical help and began to realize that, for her, the best path for healing was to understand and accept that darkness exists—but not to dwell there. For, as she now knew, light also exists—and that is where she chose to dwell. 
Given her dark past, Jane could easily have become vindictive, venomous, or violent. But she didn’t. She resisted the temptation to spread the darkness, refusing to lash out in anger, hurt, or cynicism. Instead, she held fast to the hope that with God’s help she could be healed. She chose to radiate light and devote her life to helping others. This decision enabled her to leave the past behind and to step into a glorious, bright future.  
Jane learned that healing comes when we move away from the darkness and walk toward the hope of a brighter light. It was in the practical application of faith, hope, and charity that she not only transformed her own life but forever blessed the lives of many, many others.  
There may be some among you who feel darkness encroaching upon you. You may feel burdened by worry, fear, or doubt. To you and to all of us, I repeat a wonderful and certain truth: God’s light is real. It is available to all! It gives life to all things. It has the power to soften the sting of the deepest wound. It can be a healing balm for the loneliness and sickness of our souls. In the furrows of despair, it can plant the seeds of a brighter hope. It can enlighten the deepest valleys of sorrow. It can illuminate the path before us and lead us through the darkest night into the promise of a new dawn.” 
When I was on my mission, I heard some comments by Elder Jefferey R. Holland where he said that he has no doubt in his mind that Joseph smith was inspired to use the words “a pillar of light” when describing that incredible event that brought forth the restoration of the gospel. Elder Holland said, Christ is, “literally the pillar of light in our lives.” He said to imagine that we were leaned up against a pillar at such a degree that if the pillar were to be taken away, we would fall. But imagine if that fall weren’t just a tumble to the ground. Imagine it was an eternal fall, with eternal consequences. Christ is the pillar of light upon which we can lean every day.  
This unexpected turn and change in my life has helped me to realize things don’t always go as planned. And that’s okay. When I made the decision to come home I also made the decision to never hide or be ashamed of what was about to happen.  
Pretending that this never happened isn’t going to help anyone. I have a testimony of the fact that we are here to help and build others through our own experiences, so if there is something that I have gone through that could help someone else, I am all for it.  
And so, I say
I'm happy.
I'm adjusting ... not really but, sort of.
I'm overwhelmed.
I'm a little (a lot) nervous of my future not including me having a name tag, but what return missionary isn’t nervous at some point about that. Even though the past 8 months were the most grueling experience I’ve ever had, not for one second do I or will I ever regret my decision to follow where the Lord wanted me to go because my mission has changed me – my eternal being.  

And while I don't have the slightest idea of what the Lord has planned for me next, I'm ready to see what He has in store for me this upcoming year since being home right now definitely wasn’t in the plans. But really when does life ever go as planned. Like ... never. Whether or not I am ready to not be a full time missionary anymore, it’s here and staring me in the face. 
The restoration of the gospel once again reminded humanity that God loves us even though it was US who changed his teachings and tried to do our own thing for a while to see how that would work. And yet he still brought the gospel back to us.  
The Savior’s atonement is forever all encompassing. The atonement reaches out and takes in everything that it sees. It covers sin, it covers the temptation to sin, it covers hurt and heart ache, it covers anxiety and depression, everything, it covers everything.
This entire experience has strengthened me. I love the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I saw it make a difference in people’s lives. I’ve felt it make a difference in my life even through the struggles I faced out there and am still facing today.
Guys, He’s there. I know it with all of my being.  
He’s there.
I’m here. (maybe a bit earlier than expected) 

I am going to have Madi post for me again about what has happened since her return. I know that she has been guided to do a yoga teacher training and learn more about meditation and she told me that if she had these tools while on her mission it would have made all the difference.

I heard a statistic from another friend of mine, whose daughter also came home early because of anxiety, that 80-90% of what LDS social services does is work with missionaries with anxiety.

Madi's dad told me the he has a contact with someone at a place in Salt Lake City that they call "the missionary clinic." This is where they deal with a lot of the missionaries with mental health issues. The guy there admitted that what being on a mission entails basically means that a person is leaving behind most of the normal coping mechanisms people like Madi might have used before (calling a friend, going for a walk, listening to music, taking the day off, etc.)

But I don't know of the missionary clinic or LDS Social Services has the tools to really help missionaries at the level they need. Right now.

So here is my plan. I would like to start with a small controlled study and then when the results are as good as I predict they will be, I would like to go big. And I'll need your help laying the ground work. I'll need to find funding for the study and before and after, I'll need your help convincing whoever is in charge at all different levels to let me go in and train some missionaries or therapists or mission presidents (or all of the above) in meditation and yoga for missionaries. So if any if this touches or has touched you personally and you'd be willing to write a letter to the appropriate person endorsing, me, Kundalini Yoga, or this idea, please let me know. I'll give you the email of where to send it. Or just send to me with your contact info and I'll forward it along to the right people. Send to me at progressiveprophetess at the gmail.

Also, if you have already benefited from Kundalini Yoga and know even one meditation, teach it. Teach everyone you know. You can use my book as a reference. I can also teach them other healing tools like imagery etc.

Thank you! Thank you for being brave and wanting to change and heal the world too. Imagine how amazing it would be if the majority of missionaries meditated like Bailey Cotant. They would not only heal personally but they would have so much more power in their words and in their projection.

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