Drew's Story: My Mission & Mental Illness
Written by Drew Young
63 days. That’s 1,512 hours. And that’s all I could take, not an hour more. After 63 days, I came home early from serving a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints due to mental illness, specifically panic attacks, general anxiety, and debilitating depression. The stress of learning a new language, managing a new schedule, being away from home, and having less time to recharge emotionally weakened me to the point of no return.
Return With Honor they say. Returning with honor meant serving 667 more days, or so I believed. You see, growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I always thought I would serve a two-year mission to help spread hope, light, and the knowledge of God to any and all who would listen to me.
To any who may not know what a full-time mission entails – it is when a male or female leaves their families, friends, and homes for two years or eighteen months to serve others, teach the gospel, and learn various interpersonal, time-management, and lifestyle skills.
It is a BIG DEAL – almost a rite of passage to full fellowship within the Church, some might say.
As mentioned above, I thought I would always serve. My dad served. My three older brothers served, and a lot of my friends served. It was a goal of mine since I was a young boy.
There was only one potential problem lurking in the distance—I grew up with various mental health challenges, separation anxiety being the biggest. It was very difficult for me to leave my home for long periods of time without experiencing high levels of panic, homesickness, and fear.
Luckily, when I was in high school the separation anxiety piece died down to pretty much zero. I felt confident in my abilities to leave home, take on new challenges, and accomplish MY MISSION.
I was called to serve in Estonia (a country in Eastern Europe), and would leave a couple days after my 19th birthday… but leading up to my departure date I started to feel the anxiety that I once experienced as a young child preparing to go to scout camp.
I was confused and scared but determined to not let these feelings stop me. I decided to suppress them and leave for my mission.
But no sooner than I left to serve, I returned.
And that’s where my real mission began.
A lifelong dream, a cultural and family expectation, and what I thought was “part of the plan” ended up in a catastrophic disaster. It shattered me.
It brought me to an emotional collapse having to go through 6 different medications in 6 months, seeing a therapist on a bi-weekly basis for 24 months, and feeling completely and utterly despondent and alone for 32 months.
One night I was laying on my bedroom floor experiencing a crippling panic attack when the thought came to my head, “You know, it’d be easier to end my life and move onto a better place than to keep suffering.”
I thought heavily of how I would do it and decided at the last minute that I would “stick around for another week.”
I am so glad that I stuck around. I am so glad I suffered through the mental and emotional hell. I am so glad I experienced those emotions and thoughts so that I could understand and help those who are going through similar things.
My true MISSION is to help, lift, encourage, and love those around me.
So, to anyone out there who is on the edge of life, hanging on by a thread, I offer you this loving encouragement:
You were made purposefully.
You are loved, deeply. Without qualifications.
You were born beautiful, and we’re so lucky you were born.
We need your heart.
We need your creativity.
We need you to be exactly as you are.
Not everyone will support you as you reach to become more of yourself.
Everyone is on their own journey and during this difficult time what matters most is focusing on YOU.
I’ll walk beside you.
I’ll be here for you.
Hold on. Don’t quit.
The world is NOT a better place without you.
You are loved.
You are needed.
Drew Young is the author of book The Meaning of Your Mission: Lessons & Principles to Know You Are Enough. He serves as the publicity manager at FranklinCovey, where he assists in managing best-selling book launches, social media campaigns, as well as booking high-profile thought leaders, storytellers, and celebrities for On Leadership, the fastest growing and largest leadership development on-line newsletter in the world.