Sunday, February 1, 2015

Returning Early - Three Weeks Later

I have been home from my mission for 2 weeks and 6 days, and I have spent most of that time trying to put the words together to write this post. I don't know if I will continue to use this blog, but everything changed so quickly... I felt that I needed at least one more entry to provide some closure.

But even now it's hard to find the words I want...

The truth? Coming home early from a mission is HARD. Despite the fact that I knew without a doubt that this is where I'm supposed to be. Even though I felt such peace and such confirmation that coming home was part of Heavenly Father's plan, and even though this is the choice I would have made if they hadn't made it for me... It's still a million times harder than it would have been to continue to serve with Depression. And it's harder than I ever imagined.

The feeling is a little hard to describe. It feels a bit like your heart has been ripped out of your chest and put through a blender.

Taking my nametag off and putting it on my dresser after I was released actually broke my heart. For the last two months I had feared this outcome, and had done everything humanely possible to prevent it from happening. But here I was. My mission was over, and I wasn't ever going back. My nametags sitting there were a clear reminder of that fact. They are still there, but have since gotten buried by piles of papers that accumulated as I unpacked my mission life. I think that I'm okay with that for now... seeing them still brings pangs of hurt.

My mission President, President Hansen, encouraged me in my exit interview to talk about my experiences as often as I could - especially with my family. But at lunch the first day I was home, when my dad asked, I had to run and hide after I began to tell him about a family that I knew in Utah so that he wouldn't see me cry. I was really glad that I wasn't asked to give my homecoming talk that first Sunday... I don't think I could have held it together. But the two homecomings and one farewell talk that day really didn't help much. I did not want to think about missions.

I simultaneously wanted to connect with Utah as much as possible, but also not think about it at all. I wanted to text and email and hear from friends there, but each contact I had felt like another knife to the chest.

I do not blame any missionary that struggles or makes poor choices after returning home early. Because I GET IT. I didn't want to think about my mission, but I wanted to be back in Utah more than ANYTHING. I did NOT want to be here. I felt repulsed by the world - getting online to take care of some necessary evils of putting my life together actually made me sick to my stomach. I didn't want to unpack; I didn't want to see the things that would remind me of the months I spent there. I didn't want to watch tv. I didn't want to read (I know - what's wrong with me, right??) I didn't want to listen to music, other than my mission approved music. I didn't want to play the piano or crochet or cross-stitch. I didn't want to put on pants. I didn't want to see my friends here. I mean, I did. And a lot were really excited to see me! And it was really a good thing that I see them... but each encounter made me feel really nervous and anxious. That's also hard to explain - I knew that my friends would only have love and support for me. I knew that no one would judge me. But seeing the people here... it just was a really sensitive thing for me at first, and it took an actual concerted effort to force myself to be social; I knew that it would be good for me.

I could tell for sure that I was definitely not living "of the world" anymore, but I really had no idea how to live "in the world" again. And a big part of me didn't want to try. A big part of me wanted to leave that luggage unpacked and lock it away somewhere, to push away all of the people in my life, and to go to sleep and never wake up.

And these are all feelings I had despite knowing that I was honorably released. Despite the peace and assurance that I felt. Despite the fact that I knew that NONE of this was my fault.

But all I could think was HEAVENLY FATHER, I NEVER WANTED THIS!!!!! I wanted to stay! I wanted to serve! I never wanted to go on a mission at 25... but now that I did, I never wanted to leave! I did not want any of this!!!

But this is what I have.

That first week I had a "well, now what?" feeling. My life had literally been turned on its head, and I had no idea what to do. I was one of the lucky ones - I had a solid 5 days in Utah to prepare myself for this transition... many missionaries that are released early have less than 24 hours. But even with that extra time... I still had broken pieces of my life to pick back up and patch together into something that I could live with. That is what drove me the first week: applying for school this semester, finding a job, getting a cell phone, getting transportation, getting involved with my Branch.... Picking up the pieces.

It was a week before I was able to go to the temple since it had been closed for cleaning. I went with one other friend on a Tuesday morning, and when we got to the Celestial room I sat down and just cried. For the first time since getting home I was able to cry out all of the emotion that I had bottled up and pushed through, just so I could hold it all together. After a time I opened the scriptures and found some powerful verses that spoke directly to my heart at that moment. Again I felt His love and His comfort and His peace. I felt the confirmation that I was doing the right thing, that I was on the right path. I thought that maybe, just maybe, now that week one was over that I would be okay. Maybe I could hold on to that good feeling that I had in the temple and carry it with me. Maybe the pieces would start to fall into place and everything would be alright.

But then the unthinkable happened.

The next day I received word that my Mission President's wife had passed away. Still, all I know is that she collapsed at the mission home and died. I could not believe it. Sister Hansen who I had hugged goodbye just a week earlier was... gone.

I wanted nothing more than to hug Sister Cox - my last mission companion - and to cry with her. Probably the greatest temptation I overcame was the temptation to text her that day. After all, I know the phone number, it's the number that I used for the last 5 months. I kept thinking I SHOULD BE THERE. Why did this happen? Why was I in Maryland? Why couldn't I be there and go through this with everyone?? Why wasn't I there for my companion? I had been doing an okay job of adjusting to life in Maryland again, but all of a sudden I was thrown back into Utah. I wanted to be in Utah. I mean, my heart ACHED with how much I wanted to be there, and how much it knew that it couldn't.

A number of factors aligned up and prevented me from returning for the funeral - another blow. I hated that I had to process this completely alone; I felt so detached from absolutely everyone. I felt alone, and I felt forgotten. It was exactly two weeks after I had returned home.

That evening I saw a large envelope addressed to me, from the Utah Salt Lake City Mission. My heart jumped into my throat as I opened it - in it I found several pictures of me and other missionaries at missionary events over my time in Utah. The largest was a nice one of the missionaries with Elder and Sister Arnold (of the Seventy) at the Mission Tour during my first week as a missionary - I was shocked and excited to discover that all 3 of my companions were in this photograph. Definitely frameworthy! The others were from the Christmas party just a month earlier. I also found a white handkerchief and a smaller envelope with "Sister Tipton" on the front. I opened it to find a card written by Sister Hansen herself, that included a wallet sized photo of her and President Hansen. She told me how much she enjoyed serving with me, and said that she had made this handkerchief for me to take to the temple.

I was dumbfounded (and sobbing again, of course.) I gathered up my letter and ran up to my room to enjoy it by myself. I had received a letter from "beyond the grave" and that was just so special for me! I have something that no other missionary that served in the Utah Salt Lake City Mission has - this gift received in this way. I was known. I AM known.

That was 6 days ago.

So what now?

Well it took me 2 weeks to put a patchwork life together. I did unpack. (Well, the suitcases... I haven't made it to the packages that I mailed home... but that's more a procrastination thing than a "I don't want to see it" thing.) I got a cell phone. I have 10 piano students and counting, so I have an income. I bought a car. I reenrolled in Towson and was able to register for a class that began the same day as Sister Hansen's funeral. I received a calling to serve in my YSA Branch. The stress and uncertainty that filled my life the first two weeks as I worked all of that out is gone. Now I must simply live this life that I've put together.

Easier said than done.

The Depression did not magically disappear with my release, and that is something I have to face now too. Also easier said than done. Recovery from depression is not a simple happy pill like the world would have you believe... It is truly a cancer of the mind, and just as difficult to treat. I am not looking forward to the experience, but I want to get well, so forward I go! In the meantime, I have enough to keep me busy without overwhelming me, but I also have huge gaps in my schedule that are tempting to fill with naps. :) (Not a great option - turns out you have to be awake to live life... :) I sometimes feel painfully lonely, and feel like I want to be surrounded by people constantly. But at the same time, the thought of being around others is exhausting. It's a conundrum that makes me feel isolated and confused.

I realized this week that I spent exactly 5 months in Bountiful, Utah. I arrived on August 12, 2014 and left on January 12, 2015. I had 3 companions, I experienced every single weather pattern, and made more friends than I can number. President Hansen told me that I learned more in those 5 months than some missionaries learn in 18... and that was really special to me.

As for my friends, I am so grateful for all of the support that I have received! Notes, texts, emails... these have each been deeply appreciated and cherished. The Words of Affirmation have done so much to combat the blackness of depression, and to carry me through this time of trial and transition. Really, if every person with depression were as well loved as I am then we could say that the 'stigma' no longer exists!

Months ago a friend sent me a note that said, "Sister Tipton, you are really good at not giving in and I love you for that!" I took that note and taped it to the wall above my desk to remind me every time I needed that extra boost. So here it is friends, in all of its glory. The emotion, the trials, and some of the things I have been facing. I can't tell you how many times a day I want to quit... but I haven't. I will not quit! I will plug forward and take on life. One moment at a time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mission Accomplished

Today is not a normal email day. This is not a normal week. Sister Cox is currently filling out our progress record and I am taking the time to notify you all of a major change. 

I'm coming home! 

I don't have a flight scheduled yet, but my mission President said that it will probably be for a late afternoon arrival on Monday. Monday as in 3 days away Monday. 

The missionary medical department has decided that it would be better to handle my depression at home. I am actually feeling a lot of peace about this decision, even though I had no say in it.. A week ago I did not. A week ago I was adamant to stay out here. A week ago I was thinking about this in the natural man. The natural man in me was very frustrated. After all - I asked for help for 6 straight weeks before I finally received it, and then they want to send me home before they give that help a chance to work? I began medication about 2 weeks ago - it takes a full month before you can usually feel the effects of it. A week ago I was pushing for them to let me stay until transfers in 2 weeks - by then the medication would have either kicked in and I would be fine or it wouldn't have and I would know that I needed to go home. 

I think Heavenly Father was waiting for me to realize that this is His will. There is a sister in our stake who was not able to go on her mission because she was diagnosed with leukemia. One of her leaders said to me, "I guess we just have to embrace the fact that her mission is different from others." And mine is as well. 

Sunday night I met with my mission president. I was feeling pretty devastated because it looked like I wasn't going to be able to stay. Sister Cox suggested that I get a blessing, and so we asked Brother Eubank if he wouldn't mind. 

He spoke with us for awhile. This man is very inspired and very in tune! Most people would offer words of comfort or hope and say, "Maybe you'll get to stay." Or, "It'll be okay." Instead, he looked straight at my tear-streaked face (many a woman has had a breakdown in Kevin Eubank's home! :) and asked me, "Why are you fighting this?"

What do you mean?

He then proceeded to talk about our human ideal. We like to plan our lives. We like to think of certain things happening in a certain time frame. College should take 4 years. A mission should take 18 months (or 2 years if you're a boy.) We want to be married and have children by a certain age. Etc. But God doesn't work that way. God doesn't work within OUR time frames. His plan is usually much different than our own.

As soon as Brother Eubank began speaking it I mentally kicked myself. Of COURSE I know this! I've known it for a long time! College took me longer than I wanted. I didn't get married and have kids when I wanted. I was called to serve a mission when I was much older than I wanted!

Brother Eubank asked me why I was here. "Because God told me to come." Alright, you came. You did what you were supposed to do. Now you need to figure out what God wants you to do next.

He continued by giving scriptural examples. In the Book of Mormon it begins with a family feeling impressed to depart into the wilderness because Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. After they are camped a great distance away, God instructs Nephi and his brothers to make the several day journey to return to Jerusalem to get the scriptures. It takes Nephi 3 attempts to get the scriptures - the first two times he tried to do it on his own, and it wasn't until he trusted God that he was successful. Scriptures in hand they make that long trek back to the wilderness, and soon after God tells Nephi that he must return to Jerusalem again - this time to gather another family that will travel with them. Why didn't God tell Nephi everything that he needed on that first trip? For that matter - why didn't He tell them what they needed before they ever left Jerusalem in the first place?? All we can say is that those trips back and forth and back and forth in the wilderness prepared Nephi for challenges that He would face later on. It taught him to listen to the promptings of the Spirit, and to trust God. Even when the instruction seems redundant or exhausting or kinda crazy.

Before that point it hadn't occurred to me that it might actually be God's will that I go home now. Not because I can't handle the mission or because I'm "emotionally unstable" but because God needs me home. It seemed crazy for me that God would call me on a mission and then send me home an entire year early. But it also seemed crazy that God would send Nephi on his journey, and then make him return. Twice. "Wasting" weeks of his life! Friends, that was not time wasted. That was time of learning and growth and it did serve a purpose in God's plan.

Brother Eubank told me again that I had to figure out what God's plan was for me - not what my plan was. My plan was to stay on the mission until next year. Brother Eubank used another scriptural example - Jonah and the whale. Jonah ignored the promptings and ended up spending 3 days in the belly of a whale until he was placed on the beach where God wanted him to be in the first place. If he had listened to those promptings originally, then his journey would have been much more pleasant. Brother Eubank told me that if it was God's will that I go home, that He would get me home! Wouldn't it be much better to pray and find out for myself? That I could choose to go willingly, rather than being dragged in the belly of a whale?

Finally he looked me square in the eye once more and said, "Sister Tipton, I feel that I need to tell you that I have felt all along that you KNOW what the answer is. You know what God wants, and you have known all along."

Three months ago I felt very strongly that Bountiful would be my only area. I couldn't explain it - I joked that I would be here for 18 months. Or I thought that I might be transferred to another area for 6 weeks and then return to Bountiful (that's happened.) But I felt strongly that Bountiful would be my mission. But now, with the perspective that God wants me home, that feeling makes much more sense! It doesn't surprise me that Bountiful Heights was my 6 month mission. :) 

Everyone has said that they are making this decision for me because they want to do what is best for me. But I have to say that I have full confidence that as far as the depression goes, I would be completely fine once the medication begins to really work. (I can already feel its effects) That was why my natural man was so annoyed. I think that the depression is simply a means to an end - my purpose here has been fulfilled, I have learned the things that I need to learn, and it is time for me to continue on somewhere else. I feel VERY strongly that that is true. 

I then received a powerful blessing that confirmed those feelings. I got to the point where I knew that if Missionary Medical decided not to send me home, that I would make that decision anyway because I felt so strongly that I am not supposed to be here anymore. 

I probably would have waited until after I was transferred away from Bountiful though. ;) Have I mentioned how much I love it here??

I don't know what Heavenly Father will call me to do next. I do know that it's not going to be easy! My blessing promised challenges and tasks that I would feel completely inadequate for, but reminded me that "Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies." I am excited to see what the coming years hold for me.

As for my immediate future: I will be phoneless and carless (for at least the first few days!) But like every other returned missionary I find the idea of having NOTHING to do both appalling and terrifying! So if you have a long list of tasks to do, or want help with something, or simply want company please let me know! I promise - you would be helping me more than I would be helping you. It's really best that I not sit still for long periods of time - I'm too prone to wallowing. :) This email address is good for another month, but I should be back on facebook Monday evening. ;) 

And yes. I will be teaching piano. ASAP! 

Love you all! See you soon!
Sister Tipton

Monday, January 5, 2015

Good Feelings, Friends

Because of the move and the holiday there's really not much to write about this week. :) We had a crazy wind storm last week - 70mph winds reported on our mountain! I texted Brother Eubank - our trusty weatherman - and asked him what the heck was going on and whether or not it was safe to go outside. We get high winds in Maryland... but usually only in hurricanes. And people don't go outside in hurricanes. :) 

But a cool thing happened with that wind. On Monday we drove up to Farmington to do some shopping. The snow is so dry that the wind was blowing it all over the place! The highway (er, freeway ;) was clear, so I was going the 65mph speed limit. (Actually... probably closer to 70... Tiwi - our little box that yells at us and reports us for speeding and other violations - allows up to 7 miles above the speed limit. It's possible that I push that envelope a little.) But when we got on the exit ramp it was COVERED with snow. I realized a second too late that it was actually very dangerous, and had no time to slow down before we hit it. I slammed on my breaks and held tight to the wheel with both hands as I repeated over and over "Oh shoot oh shoot oh shoot oh shoot!" I think my companion was white knuckled in the passenger seat. But somehow - miraculously! - we were able to stop before we rear ended the SUV in front of us! Really there was no way I should have been able to stop that car that quickly. We felt for sure we were protected. :)

It wasn't until after we had stopped at the top of the ramp that I noticed that other vehicles had not fared so well on that ramp - two had collided and driven off the road. We were so blessed. :)

New Years Eve was probably more depressing for me than anything else as a missionary so far. This is the first New Years EVER that I have not celebrated! We weren't allowed to go out to work after 5pm, so instead we got together as a district and watched "Frozen" and "Ephraim's Rescue." Then we went home and I decided to go ahead and go to bed early. 

I did have this funny conversation with Bishop Pierson.
Me: "What are you doing for New Years?"
Bishop: "Party with the family at the church building! But you can't come. We're going to do things that missionaries aren't allowed to do!"
Me: "Like what? Stay out after 9pm? :P"
Bishop: "Um sure."
Me: "Listen to worldly music? Watch movies? Drink caffeinated beverages?? You can't get into TOO much trouble... you are a Mormon Bishop after all..."
Bishop: "Um. Right."

Yeah... I didn't know quite what he meant... until the world EXPLODED around me at midnight!!! Seriously our new neighbors are pyromaniacs!!! Fireworks were happening in every direction! And sure enough, some were at the church building (which we can now see from our bedroom window) Missionaries are definitely not allowed to play with fireworks!!! But it was really fun to see! I watched them all from my new bedroom. And it reminded me of the time that I was in England during Guy Fawkes day and I watched all the fireworks from my attic bedroom. Good times. :) People in Utah celebrate better than we do in Maryland. :) 

Yesterday we had 6 hours of church, and I got up to bear my testimony in all three sacrament meetings that we attended. I had been reading the lyrics to hymn #112 "Savior, Redeemer of my Soul." They are, "Thy pure word, hath it not been my one delight? My joy by day, my dream by night. Then let my lips proclaim it still, and all my life reflect thy will." I wish I could somehow express just how much the Savior means to me. This gospel is TRULY my one delight. It is the thing that centers me and helps everything else to fall into place. Even when life is just really really hard, it can still feel like everything is right. I hope I will always open my mouth. I hope that I will always live according to His will. Therein lies true happiness. :)

After church I spoke with my favorite Schmidt family again. We talked about a boy that we are teaching in their home and the struggles he is facing. I said that I felt that he needs to just feel the Spirit - the other struggles can be faced later. When I was baptized there were certain things that I was concerned about. But I knew the church was true. Without a doubt. There was no WAY I could deny the feeling that I had! So I decided to put those concerns on a back burner and address them later (which I have since done) and just go ahead and do what I knew to be right. This statement caused Jon to marvel and say, "You have such incredibly strong faith!! It's great to hear you speak." :) Good feelings friends. Good feelings. 

Alright. Love you all! Speak to you next week!

Sister Tipton