On my first or second day in the MTC, I received a great piece of advice from my cousin who began his mission a couple weeks before I did. We bumped into each other in the cafeteria and after an enthusiastic greeting and a hug, he asked me about my first impressions of the MTC. Grateful to have a confidant, I confessed to him that I was feeling a bit scared, very stressed, and more exhausted than I had been in a long while. He replied very simply. “Just make it to Sunday,” he said. If I hadn’t been so tired from a couple of sleepless nights on those lumpy MTC mattresses, I might have thought, “that’s it? You can’t give me anything better than that for advice?” Thankfully, I was all out of snark, so I believed him. He explained that the first few days at the MTC were hard for him, as well. He was overwhelmed by the rigorous schedule, the endless list of rules, and the sometimes suffocating experience of adjusting to life with a companion. He started to doubt whether he could make it through two months of the MTC, much less two years of his mission. After three days of this, Sunday came around and everything changed. He found he could handle it after all.
|Sundays in the MTC mean three wonderful things: firesides,|
temple walks, and ice cream! Photo Credit
I took him at his word. “Just make it to Sunday” became my mantra for the next few days. When Sunday finally arrived, I was thrilled to discover that he was right. Though things were still challenging and I was still a bit frazzled, I felt stronger, calmer, and more able to cope with my lot gracefully. Since then, I have shared that same advice numerous times. During my three weeks at the MTC, I passed that counsel on to a few of my friends who came in after me. Since I’ve been home, I have said the same thing to every soon-to-be missionary I’ve encountered.
It may seem like a trivial piece of advice; after all, it was just a mantra I used to muscle through a few tough moments, when considered at face value. But for me, those five simple words have taken on a more significant meaning.
|See? Tracting is awkward enough with two people,|
imagine doing it with three! Photo Credit
Once my three weeks in the MTC had passed, I was temporarily assigned to a mission in Utah while my visa paperwork was processed. As in the MTC, the first few days were a trial. While there, I was part of a trio companionship. One of my companions had a developmental difficulty that made it difficult for him to adjust to sudden changes and interact comfortably with strangers. Well, I was a stranger and I caused some sudden changes. Being a brand new missionary, I was completely unfamiliar with the particular rules and culture of that mission. I had never gone tracting. I had never taught a lesson with a real investigator. I had never done weekly planning. Naturally, I threw off the groove that my two companions had established in the weeks before my arrival. I could sense the frustration and impatience of the one companion. And there was nothing I could do about it. I felt guilty and inadequate each time I made a mistake in a lesson or contact. I felt lonely sitting in the back seat of the car while my other two companions sat in the front laughing at inside jokes. I felt trunky—not for home, but for France, the mission to which I had been called. But the advice to “just make it to Sunday” held true once again. I don’t know if it was a Sunday when things started to get better, but after several days, things did improve. I settled into the rhythm of finding and teaching. I tuned into the inside jokes and particular humor of my companions. My companion adapted to my presence and participation and even told me, “when I first met you, I wanted to punch you in the face, but now I think you’re pretty cool.”
|Chartres, France. I was serving here when my|
depression was at its worst. Photo Credit
When I got to France, I faced a new set of challenges. The novelty and excitement of greenie life began to wear off shortly after the jetlag did, and they were chased away by the arrival of three unwelcome guests: depression, anxiety, and insomnia. At first, I refused to accept it. I was a missionary! Missionaries could be occasionally discouraged, maybe even homesick, but clinically depressed? Insomniac? Never! Missionary work was too important for God to let that happen to me, right? I just needed to work harder. To no one’s surprise, things just got worse. I started to close up to my companions, I struggled to build relationships with members and investigators, and I was frequently sick. It was a pretty awful few months for me and for my companions, none of whom knew what to do to help me. One morning I sat crying in the bathroom, my thoughts spiraling from bad to worse to ugly. I was hopeless about my mission. I was hopeless about the rest of my life. I was ready to give up, but I didn’t think I could endure the shame and stigma of going home. For the first time since middle school, I thought that suicide would be the best solution.
|The beaches and bluffs near Saint-Brieuc, France. I was serving here when|
things started to get better. I remember this place very fondly. Photo Credit
It was as if an alarm went off in my head. My will to live bested my desire to die and I called my mission president for help. I began to work with a therapist and things slowly improved. After a couple months of therapy, I woke up one day and got out of bed at 6:30 without any trouble. I had slept well the night before. Not only had my paralyzing depression eased up, it seemed to be gone*! I was happy, healthy, and ready to work. Sunday took a lot longer to come around, but it came, and things got much better. From then on, I was able, not just to do missionary work, but to love it. My companions became my best friends. Members and investigators became family. That was a turning point for me, and the rest of my mission was a joyful experience.
Just make it to Sunday. Just make it to Sunday. Just make it to Sunday.
|This pretty much sums it up. Photo Credit|
This phrase has helped me through my mission, my post-mission adjustment period, and my coming out process. In each, there were initial, impossible, overwhelming difficulties to deal with (okay, that might be a bit dramatic), but with patience, things got better. (Dare I say, it gets better?) I am certain that life will concoct plenty more impossible, overwhelming difficulties (again, I’m being dramatic). But I am equally certain that if I have the courage to ask for help when I need it and the tenacity to hold on for dear life (literally), then with God’s grace, I’ll make it through all right.
If things get tough for you (and they probably will), just remember this. If you are on the cusp of giving up, remember that God loves you, that I love you, and that things will get better. As hard as it may be, you are strong enough to hold on. We need you to hold on.
Sunday will bring new problems, to be sure, but if you can just make it to Sunday, you’ll be okay.
*While the therapy I received on my mission helped me emerge from my depressive episode and gave me excellent strategies to maintain my mental health for the rest of my mission, it did not “cure” my depression. Since returning home, my depression has returned and I have sought therapy and medication, both of which have been very helpful. Whether you’ve experienced one depressive episode or ten, please have the wisdom to seek professional and medical help and realize the end of one depressive episode does not mean that you will never experience depression again.