Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reflections on a Year away from Korea

Last time I (or my dad) posted on this blog was over a year ago and I was saying goodbye to a work that I loved, people that I loved and a country that I loved.

Not a day goes by that I don't think about and long for Korea or the work that I was doing there.
I am currently an investigator actor in the MTC, a job which has blessed me more than I can say. One of the many missionaries that have taught me said something that really hit me:

She was talking about her family, saying that she had a younger sister at home whom she cared for, provided for and loved very dearly. She was nervous and saddened to leave her little sister, wondering if she would be taken care of or not. Fortunately, that sister missionary's sister was fine and was being taken care of and although this missionary loved her younger sister very much she needed to learn to focus on the work ahead of her.

That is exactly my feelings towards my mission and especially towards Korea. Korea, and more specifically the people in Korea, was something I put my whole heart and efforts into for 19 months. Leaving Korea felt like being ripped away from family, from something I loved so dearly. However, I have had to learn to move on and to focus on the Lord's work where I am now, realizing that God is continually watching over the Korean people and that the work is moving forward, with or without me. That being said, my heart will always be with my mission in Korea.

I've decided to write a little summary about my experience being home from my mission over the past year in the hopes that getting these pent-up feelings in my soul out on paper will help my mental state, and maybe even help returned missionaries who have experienced similar things.

The road coming back off my mission was a rocky, bumpy rollercoaster (or however you want to picture it). My first mistake was telling myself, Kaelin, you have been outside of your comfort zone for years. You're exhausted. But you're back home now. You don't need to push yourself anymore. Just take this time to relax. While my body, mind and emotions screamed at me to rest and take a much-deserved break, I wasn't able to realize that this self-centered, closed-in direction I was heading would be self-destructive.

On my mission I talked to everyone, I answered the phone, I was a leader, I counseled others, I volunteered, I went out of my way to serve. The minute I returned home, I closed myself off, I struggled starting conversations, I panicked when I had to answer phone calls, I lost the desire to reach out to others and I avoided social situations like the plague. The longer I spent in my shell I had created around myself the more miserable I became.

It wasn't until I started school at BYU this last spring that I realized the mess I had gotten myself in. The psychologist I saw after the first couple of panic attacks labeled it "social anxiety." I tried to keep up all the promises I made to myself at the end of my mission: to read the scriptures daily, to pray, to do the simple things. However, these simple things become harder to do when you suffer from anxiety. My church attendance grew spotty as I became increasingly more scared and nervous of any social interaction.

As my anxiety worsened, depression started to sneak into my life as well. I would have periods of heightened stress and anxiety followed by low valleys of depression. My whole life I had thought that symptoms of depression always included suicidal thoughts. I have never once considered ending my life, so what I'm dealing with must not be depression, I thought. However, as I talked to my psychologist more about the symptoms of depression I realized that depression is so much more than that and although I didn't have suicidal thoughts I had been experiencing all the other symptoms related to it.

It was only 6 months ago when I was mentally in the worst state of my life. Every time I thought about my mission (which was daily) I felt this sweeping melancholy which would spiral me for a day or two into a depressive episode. I would have to look in the mirror and accept the fact that I was not mentally well. Even though there were wonderfully happy things happening in my life I started to wonder if I would ever be as happy or feel as accomplished as I did on my mission.

Don't get me wrong, my mission was physically, mentally and emotionally the hardest thing I have ever had to do but as I was staring in the mirror wallowing in self-pity I started reexamining myself. I asked myself, Your mission was hard but you were can you find Sister Holdaway and bring her back? Granted, there were several differences between missionary life and the life I was leading and as I sifted through what had made me so happy I finally figured out what had mattered so much and what I was lacking: selflessness.

As I had learned from my mission, the Character of Christ is one that embodies selflessness. Christ was constantly turning outwards to serve and care for those around him. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. I had been so focused on myself and what I needed and what I was dealing with for these past months that I failed to see those around me.

I began making it a goal to reach out and serve at least one person a day. It was small things at first; I would comfort a struggling roommate, go out of my way to help a classmate, compliment someone who was looking down. Life became exciting again as I started looking up from my textbooks and out of the mirror. I smiled sincerely for the first time in months. I worked on much needed relationships that had been damaged by my hermit-like behavior. As I served others my love for them grew and I could lie down at the end of the day and feel, for the first time in a long time, successful.
As the anniversary of my return from Korea comes and goes I can look back over this year with a heart full of gratitude. Eventually, I was able to bring Sister Holdaway back the same way I found her in Korea years before, by loving others. I still struggle with anxiety and, at times, depressive episodes, but I feel closer to my Savior and closer to those people around me who can love and support me as well. I'm still working on it but I'm trying my best.

The same love that Heavenly Father expects of us on our missions towards the people we served is expected towards those we interact with here at home, towards our family and friends. My mission is the most precious experience of my life, but I'm looking forward to adding more to the collection.
저는 하나님이 살이 우리를 사랑하신다는 것을 알고 있습니다. 그렇기때문에 하나님은 우리 주위에있는 사람들을 사랑하기를 원하십니다. 저는 이 복음과 교회가 참되다는 걸 알고 있고 사랑합니다. 저는 그리스도로 설정하면 그분이 우리를 인도하실다는 것을 알고 있습니다.

I know without a doubt that this church is true, that God loves His children and that Christ will never leave us comfortless if we allow Him into our lives.

Here's to wonderful years ahead!

- Kaelin Holdaway

P.S. Special thanks to my boyfriend, Spencer Stanley, who was with me and supported me through all of this. God knew that I needed someone who would refuse to be pushed out of my life.