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.