Column: It’s OK not to be OK

Austin Archuleta on the left, Pamela Paredes on the right. Photo credit: Pamela Paredes.
Austin Archuleta on the left, Pamela Paredes on the right. Photo credit: Pamela Paredes.

There are three groups of people at the beach.

There are the risk takers — usually the ones who don’t fear the water and go as far into the ocean as they can. There are the people who play it safe. They swim in the ocean, but they stay within a safe distance of the shore. Then, there are the young children who would rather avoid the water and simply play in the sand.

In life, I’ve been the girl who avoids the water.

From 2019 to 2020, I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Resistencia, Argentina. Before my mission, I considered myself a risk taker— I wouldn’t measure the dangers of things before doing them.

After struggling with lung, knee and gallbladder problems, as well as some hard mission companionships, having someone almost enter my apartment on my mission and being sent home from my mission early due to health, I felt incompetent.

Sister Paredes on the left, Sister Ardaist on the right as missionaries in Reconquista, Argentina. Photo credit: Pamela Paredes.
Sister Paredes on the left, Sister Ardaist on the right as missionaries in Reconquista, Argentina. Photo credit: Pamela Paredes.

Despite my health issues, I thought things were going great. I was getting the hang of missionary work and I had many plans for the area I was serving in at the time. Receiving a call from my mission president, who told me that I was being sent home early, made me furious — not at him, but at God. 

Sister Paredes at the hospital in Resistencia, Argentina. Photo credit: Pamela Paredes.

At the airport, rather than feeling the joy of seeing my parents, I was disappointed. I had missed them, but I felt robbed of my time serving God as a missionary.

Health recovery took a couple of years and COVID-19 made things even more complicated.

Going from knocking doors to waking up every day between four walls frustrated me to no end. This change in my life meant I had to pause my life goals.

I had started having panic attacks during my mission, but they would come and go — they weren’t as frequent until I came home.

I became more reserved. I looked down more often, avoided talking about the mission and wouldn’t smile. I had forgotten who I was. I kept all my emotions inside.

I thought pushing my feelings away would help me move on. 

I enrolled in school to avoid thinking back to the days of my mission.

It didn’t help.

My phone was constantly buzzing with messages from friends who wanted someone to listen to their struggles. I began finding ways to help them and thought that in a way it would help me forget about my struggles.

It didn’t.

My mother was my confidant. She reminded me daily that I had done all I could on my mission. Her words comforted me at first, but before long my original thoughts came back. 10 months was not 18 months; I tormented myself for not completing something I cared so deeply about. 

Two semesters ago, several friends advised me to go to counseling. When my mother found out about the frequency of my anxiety attacks, she encouraged me to do the same.

I gave myself many justifications for not going. “People around me are suffering far more than I am,” I thought. I thought I had it handled. The idea of becoming vulnerable and expressing my feelings seemed like a sign of weakness to me.

I would rather just sit in the sand for just a little bit longer.

God knew what I have been wanting for the last couple of years. I got tired of being afraid to start my life — tired of playing in the sand while I saw people around me swimming in the ocean.

During my mission, it felt as if I was swimming, but my trials felt like back-to-back waves — I felt like there wasn’t enough time to breathe before another one would swallow me. That’s why I kept myself near the sand. It seemed easier. 

Meeting Austin, my now fiancé, was the biggest turn for me. On many of our first dates, I felt the need to ask specific questions. His responses would get me thinking about what I’d been doing with my life. There were specific changes I wanted to make for myself. He guided me to know what I truly wanted.

Once we started talking about marriage, things changed.

Austin Archuleta on the left, Pamela Paredes on the right. Photo credit: Pamela Paredes.
Austin Archuleta on the left, Pamela Paredes on the right. Photo credit: Pamela Paredes.

I thought about how my life would change. How would I build a family when I was so afraid? How could I help other human beings grow physically, mentally and spiritually when I hadn’t helped myself? 

I had been playing in the sand far too long and didn’t know if I was ready to go into the ocean with someone else.

So many other questions came to mind and I knew I needed to get help.

Austin also recommended seeking a counselor. Even with the desire for change, I was still very prideful about going. At the end of the fall semester, I had a panic attack. That’s when I’d had enough.

After Christmas break, I set an appointment with BYU-Idaho’s Counseling Center. 

Still prideful, I went to the consultation with the mentality that it wouldn’t help me. At the end of the consultation, the counselor told me there was a high chance that there was no more space for individual sessions. He gave me the options that BYU-Idaho offers students.

When he told me there was potentially no more room for me, I thought this wasn’t the option to go for. He had suggested I go to group sessions, but I was in denial. I was not excited to express my feelings to a large group of people. At that time, I would barely open up to Austin about these things.

A miracle occurred. God knew my thoughts and desires. Somehow, there was exactly one continuous individual counseling appointment opening and it was available during the times I didn’t have school. I remember smiling and thinking, “God does want me to do this.”

So I did it.

During the spring semester, I went to counseling consistently. I knew there was still a long way to go, but many of my fears were slowly going away.

Now, anxiety attacks come, but because of what I’ve learned in counseling, I can control them — without even needing medication. 

I’ve realized that what I’d thought for several years was not true. I wasn’t incompetent because I came back from my mission early. God didn’t send me back because I was useless. He sent me back so that I could learn. 

I am no longer afraid to start something new. On the contrary, I’m really excited when new opportunities present themselves. I have learned to not hide my emotions and to be a strong communicator with the person I love the most. 

I am slowly remembering how to dream again. 

I’ve begun walking towards the ocean. I let Austin take me closer each day. He has taken me to where my feet are at the edge of the water. It’s not so bad. When I feel like I want to run back, somehow he finds a way to keep me near the ocean.

BYU-Idaho’s Counseling Center is open to all students who are seeking help.

“We have really good therapists here that will listen,” said Jared Neal, a BYU-Idaho health counselor. “We try our best to provide a safe environment no matter what (a student is) dealing with. It is confidential. We don’t share anything with other departments of the school. Come have a consultation. We want to help you.”

Don’t be afraid. It’s OK to not be OK. One doesn’t have to walk the path by themselves.

Playing in the sand is not always the right choice.