Returned LDS missionary talks about mental illness and early release

I hope they call me on a mission
When I have grown a foot or two.
I hope by then I will be ready
To teach and preach and work as missionaries do.

Elder Groll at temple with the Mullens

President and Sister Mullen with Logan Groll at the Spokane, Washington Temple.

They aren’t just words to a beloved Primary song. They are the lyrics to dreams of boys and girls around the world. The tune is a staple on Sundays, and many lifelong members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have enjoyed singing it for as long as they can remember.

Logan Groll of Winchester, Virginia, isn’t one of those. He’s been at it even longer. In fact, he suspects he was singing it on the other side of this earthy choir.

The wait finally came to an end when a mission call to Manaus, Brazil, hit his mailbox on March 26, 2013.

I can witness that this young man was among the most prepared missionaries I’ve ever known throughout my service in the church, which includes instructing a mission preparation class. He was knowledgeable, confident and had been raised by two of the finest parents a kid could have.

We often speak in the church about raising the bar. In Groll’s case, if you raised it again, then again, then again until it was hardly visible, he would still clear it by a celestial mile.

For all these reasons and more, many might find his length of service surprising.

Elder Logan Groll was called for 24 months.

He served less than 12.

Shortly after receiving his call, Groll began recognizing symptoms of anxiety and purely obsessive-compulsive disorder. Looking back, his parents realize he’d displayed behaviors consistent with the diagnosis as early as age 5.

POCD is unlike traditional obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is less about behavior and more about thoughts. These intrusive thoughts, triggered by stress, often work to convince the sufferer they’ve done terrible things to themselves or others. He sometimes needed reassurances from loved ones that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Logan Groll

Logan Groll points to Brazil while in the Provo, Utah Mission Training Center.

Groll was formally diagnosed and saw a therapist before entering the Provo Mission Training Center. Within a few days of arriving, his symptoms exploded. Despite exact obedience, a loving, patient companion and understanding leaders, each day was a struggle. They learned that while on his mission, he could only be treated in drips. But according to his father, Mike Groll, who also happens to be his bishop, what he needed was “a fire hydrant.”

So, when his brothers in the MTC went to Brazil, Groll went home to Virginia. He was given a medical release and six months to seek help and return to the field.

The results came quickly. A toolbox of medication, therapy, prayer, scripture study and significant time with the local missionaries at home prepared him for a return.

Feeling ready, and with the figurative blessing of the doctor and a literal blessing from his loving stake president, Groll resubmitted his paperwork and was called to the Washington Spokane Mission.

He reported directly to the field and hit the ground racing at about the same speed as the jet that carried him there. He had tremendous success and was loved by missionaries and members alike.

He was, at last, teaching and preaching like missionaries do.

But it wasn’t a Primary song anymore. It was his life.

Then, like a storm whose tracking and arrival cannot be predicted, but where rain is a near-certainty, his mind flooded.

The pressures and rigors of missionary life and distance from the safety of home made it difficult to enjoy consistent calm. Regular anxiety attacks overwhelmed him at night and during meetings. The discouraging moments began to outnumber those of self-assurance.

Rather than the occasional moment of uncertainty we all feel as a natural course of life, family and work, Groll lived the opposite. Only now and again did his mind slow and his chaotic thoughts align with his steel will.

 He did all he could to remain in the field. His mission president, Donald Mullen, and his wife, Melonie, were extraordinarily loving and supportive.

Groll counseled with them, his parents, a doctor and, after fasting and prayer, came to the conclusion that his heart was able, but his body was not. When he finally felt completely at peace that his work was done, that the Lord was satisfied with his effort, he accepted an invitation to honorably end his mission and return home.

When I approached my dear friend about sharing his personal story with the world, I expected him to need time to really consider it and to seriously ponder whether he had the courage at this early stage of his life to go public with such private trials.

I was right. He needed time. Almost five seconds.

Over a series of face-to-face meetings, emails and text messages, this returned missionary taught me more about what it means to honorably serve the Lord than I learned on my own more traditional mission two decades ago. Such as, what does “traditional” mean anyway?

We first spoke at length of the initial decision to come home when his MTC mates went to Brazil. “I knew it was not healthy for me or anyone else. I knew I needed to get things sorted out before going back out.”

During his time home, he said he prayed to know precisely what he should do for the coming six months. “I received very specific impressions that I should prepare to return and I was led to Doctrine and Covenants 11. I wanted to go when he wanted me to go. I knew it had to be about his will, not mine.”

Groll confides that sleep was difficult during those months and even though he was safely home, he continued to deal with anxiety. He returned to a therapist and they continued experimenting with the right drugs and proper dosages. “I began to believe that even though I couldn’t control my physical being or surroundings, I could control my attitude and my spiritual welfare.”

When his new call was issued to the Washington Spokane Mission, he instantly knew it was an assignment not from this world. “It was very clear to me that there were people I’d made promises to before this life to come teach the gospel to. And those people were in Spokane.”

Despite the continued struggles, he believed it was worth the pain and worth the trials. “I wanted to go and bring them home with me.” Not to Virginia, he clarified with a smile, but to their heavenly home.

TJM-Color-Banner

Groll served in two areas, Hillyard and Beacon Hill. In both, he experienced remarkable success with companions he said changed his life forever. But in his second area, despite so much working in his favor, the anxiety and panic attacks intensified. At times they were so severe, he thought he was having heart attacks. They led to nausea and sleeplessness that began to impact the work.

“I prayed hard, so hard. But I realized my body was done. I had nothing left to give. And it wasn’t fair to my companion any longer.”

Groll found solace in the Atonement. “I kept remembering that Christ gave his all. So I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to follow his example by giving my all, too. By doing this, even in the middle of the trials, I became closer to the Savior.”

I wondered when he accepted that it was finally time. “I knew there were four people who were pleased with my mission. Myself, my parents and God. And that’s all I needed.”

By now, Groll surely knows many others are pleased, as well. Members he worked with in Spokane rave about his spirit and work ethic. His mission president and his wife call him one of their finest.

When Sister Mullen heard her former missionary was going public with his story in an effort to educate and inspire others, she asked for an opportunity to contribute.

“Elder Groll was wonderful,” she told me. “We love him!” Then she added several keys she hopes families of missionaries will understand. “What matters is … whether you’re living the gospel. It’s where are you in five years.”

In addition to presiding over a mission, the Mullen family has personal experience with a missionary coming home early for health reasons. “We have to love them through it. Things happen and this is between them and the Lord. It is not for us to place a judgment.”

President and Sister Mullen remind their elders and sisters, members and even one another that these are the Lord’s missionaries. “They are known by the Lord,” Sister Mullen said, “and they only need to answer to him.” She teaches that every single missionary has a different journey. Over their two and a half years of service, with the age change, the mission being split, temporary “visa waiters” and their own complement of missionaries being increased to 250, they’ve worked with nearly 600 total elders and sisters.

“All of them struggle at least a little and many of them struggle a lot,” Mullen said. “But their work is sacred. Whatever they are trying to give, do, learn and sacrifice is acceptable to the Lord. We need to accept each individual missionary’s journey and let it be theirs.”

Mullen said she has met with missionaries who may not have realized they had symptoms of anxiety and depression before their missions, but had been blindly coping. “We think they’re not seeing signs because they’re seeking constant entertainment.” She added, bluntly: “My advice is to get off the phone and get out of their bedroom.”

Mullen also spoke of the battle early returning missionaries face at home. The question, she said, seems endless: “When are you going back out?”

She encourages members to take another approach. “Just love them. Support them. Tell them you know they did good work. Tell them, ‘We’re glad to have you home. Now relax!’”

During our interview, she circled back several times to this central concern. “Don’t ask when they’re going back out. Don’t ask details. Love them.”

Mullen also wants these missionaries and their families to know they’re not alone. It’s more common than they think, and it’s not only right to ask for help, the Lord actually wants them to. And the resources, she said, are easily available.

To members and families of those who return early, his advice echoed his cherished mission mother. “Just love them. Acknowledge them, tell them how proud you are and don’t pry. These missionaries really need a strong church family.”

He added that his own church family, the Berryville Ward (like a congregation) in the Winchester Virginia Stake (like a diocese), was exactly that. He credits their unconditional love and support for his ability to return home, to heal, to return to the field and to return home a final time.

“We like to say opinions don’t matter,” he continued, “but it’s so important to know you’re loved. Let us know we’re accepted for who we are and who we’re becoming, even if our mission didn’t look like everyone else’s.”

The returned missionary also wants those experiencing mental health issues to know there’s no shame and no need to be embarrassed. Some end missions early for breaking legs, some end missions for mononucleosis and some end missions for mental illness. “An honorable release is an honorable release, period.”

Lastly, once missionaries are home, no matter how long they served, Groll suggests they set three goals. “One physical, one mental and one spiritual. It’s so important we have that focus and direction.”

As our final discussion moved on to school, work, hobbies and the young adult manuscript the aspiring novelist is working on every single day, Groll discussed his continued passion for missionary work and how often he raises his hand to split or team up with the elders in his ward. It’s obvious he may have left the mission, but the mission hasn’t left him.

In fact, he’s still serving a mission, he’s just not wearing a name tag. He’s on a mission to help others with similar experiences find peace.

And what about that beloved Primary song? It still rings in his soul.

I hope that I can share the gospel
With those who want to know the truth.
I want to be a missionary
And serve and help the Lord while I am in my youth.

For Logan Groll and other honorably returning missionaries like him, it’s time to move on to their second verses.


Jason Wright is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a mission for the Church. He invites you to learn more by visiting his Beliefs page or lds.org. He welcomes your questions.

The James Miracle by Jason Wright

Click here to subscribe and be the first read Jason’s weekly columns and other posts. You’ll also hear about exclusive contests, freebies and sneak peeks of new projects.

 

Comments

  1. todd says:

    Logan I a great young man and this story was very timely. there are many that suffer the pains of “not meeting the expectations ” that are set for YM in the church or by themselves. I am greatly the story of an honorable release regardless of “time in the field” these fine missionaries have done the work has asked. Thanks again for this great story.

  2. Josie says:

    This may be something to consider with Erik and Adam

  3. Jonathan Watson says:

    Elder Groll was a favorate missionary in the Beacon Hill Ward. We appreciate your hard work and your drive to serve us but more importantly to serve the lord. You did well and we will never forget you and the fun times that we all had. Thanks for the memories and the “First Discussion, Ukulele Style.” Brother, we are thankful to have gotten to know you. We hope you well in life. God be with you till we meet again. Love you.

  4. Shyla Rose says:

    I’ve had a mental illness for 12 years. Hearing stories like yours gives me hope. I would be honored if you are able to email me. God bless you.

  5. lynette kellogg says:

    after my first son coming home early from hurting his knee… needing and getting surgery while at the MTC… he started experiencing all of these symptoms. he returned home, and after struggling for the better part of the year following his mission, he took his life. my second son was called to serve in Lyon France and like the boy described in your beautiful story started experiencing anxiety and prayed continually for instructions from Heavenly Father to let him know what more he can be doing to please him so his anxiety would cease. the day he realized that his Father wouldn’t teach him to do better by punishing him with this great burdens of anxiety, he was counseled to return home. his mission president was sad to see such a dedicated servant if our father return earlier than he wanted to but through prayer my son Briggs knew he had served well. it was hard to let my son go after such a tragedy a year prior. I was so happy to hear that he was returning because I NEVER I knew my son. never have I met such a Christlike dedicated young man. he has been home for 2 months… sees a therapist about every other week and is currently enrolled in school for next semester and is managing a Smash Burger restaurant. he is adjusting amazingly…. takes the missionaries in our area out to lunch once a week, and doing more service and missionary work in our home then we could have ever hoped for. our 3rd son plans to serve a full time mission in the next few years and our youngest is a girl and is sonorous of he brothers. 1 years is a earthly measure of time. sometimes we need to march to our Fathers watch. thx you!!!! lynette

  6. lynette kellogg says:

    after my first son coming home early from hurting his knee… needing and getting surgery while at the MTC… he started experiencing all of these symptoms. he returned home, and after struggling for the better part of the year following his mission, he took his life. my second son was called to serve in Lyon France and like the boy described in your beautiful story started experiencing anxiety and prayed continually for instructions from Heavenly Father to let him know what more he can be doing to please him so his anxiety would cease. the day he realized that his Father wouldn’t teach him to do better by punishing him with this great burdens of anxiety, he was counseled to return home. his mission president was sad to see such a dedicated servant if our father return earlier than he wanted to but through prayer my son Briggs knew he had served well. it was hard to let my son go after such a tragedy a year prior. I was so happy to hear that he was returning because I NEVER I knew my son. never have I met such a Christlike dedicated young man. he has been home for 2 months… sees a therapist about every other week and is currently enrolled in school for next semester and is managing a Smash Burger restaurant. he is adjusting amazingly…. takes the missionaries in our area out to lunch once a week, and doing more service and missionary work in our home then we could have ever hoped for. our 3rd son plans to serve a full time mission in the next few years and our youngest is a girl and is so proud of he brothers. 2 years is a earthly measure of time. Sometimes we need to march to our Fathers watch. thx you!!!! lynette

  7. Teresa Sorensen says:

    I loved this article, I was so surprised when I opened it on Facebook and their was a picture of my baby sister and her husband Don. I have received her wisdom many times in my life. we all have struggles, but it’s how we come through on the other side. You have a strong spirit. And you are Heavenly Father’s Missionary. I wish you the best.

  8. Bettina Gibson says:

    Thank you for this story!