On Choosing McKayla

For the past few years, I randomly would have my late night: “I must move out of Utah and therefore will apply to every job in the United States that requires mandarin so that I can make use of the language I traumatized myself in order to learn.” I would wake up in the morning with a bunch of responses like “Do you live in Hawaii currently?” or “What interested you in being a coffee bean tourist?”

Each time I did this I would get too overwhelmed with any further steps and would just ghost everyone who responded to me. And Each time I would also beat myself up for not being able to follow through with moving out of Utah. Finally, to prove to myself and the world that I can follow through with something, I took it one step further in the process. With each step I took the more I felt like I owed something to the employer and the more I would develop this weird sense of loyalty that would make me feel obligated to continue moving forward in the process. I started replying to one of the employers which led to him offering to fly me to Las Vegas for an interview which eventually escalated until I was signing a six-month contract for a studio apartment in Las Vegas and moving all my things down there.

As soon as my parents left after helping move my stuff down, I was instantly hit with a wall of “What did I get myself into?” This transported me back to my first day as a missionary in Taiwan when I was hit with the exact same wall of realization. Just moments after I had dropped my luggage off in my new apartment, my companion and I had set out on our bikes down the busy streets of Tucheng city to go teach a lesson. My calf-length skirt was blowing up into my face as I was riding my bike across a dark and busy bridge behind a girl that I had just met a few hours before. I had just realized that I never felt like I fully thought through my decision to postpone school, miss my sister’s wedding, cut all modern ties with all my family and friends, and move to Taiwan where I would betray my truest self for the next 18 months, and then be expected to put on a smile while doing so. It was like I had a moment where I snapped back to my inner self and thought, “McKayla, what did you get yourself into?” I had quickly silenced this thought by using the skill I had almost perfected in order to fit the rigid mold of the culture I grew up in, I would convince myself there was no other choice and then would work so hard that my true feelings/desires would be masked by my pain/exhaustion. I quickly told myself “McKayla, you are in it too far to go back now,” and then started obsessively pedaling so that my mind had no choice but to be focused on my burning lungs and aching legs. I did this for the next 18 months.

From the outside, moving to Las Vegas probably looked absolutely nothing like my experience as a missionary in Taiwan, but my body was not willing to risk being stuck in any situation that even closely resembled my time as a missionary.

I went to my first day of work feeling like nothing about me was enough and embarrassed that I had not prepared more to compensate for my inadequacy, which was the way I felt when on my first day at the Missionary Training Center. After realizing that my employer was actually very kind and understanding, my “Mckayla you are in it too far to go back now” turned into “McKayla you cannot betray these people who think that you are amazing.”

I led my first tour on my own after having a shorter than average training period, got the most 5 star reviews out of any tour guide in the company, and then was given a raise by my employers due to how happy they were with how I was doing. I had thrown myself into my job hoping that this would distract from the pain I was feeling inside. With each step, the stakes of disappointing my employers were even higher thus bringing me back to one of my most severe cases of “McKayla you cannot betray these people who think you are amazing.” It did not matter how different my circumstances in Vegas were, my body had decided that I was sister Jones again. I was desperately trying to prove my enoughness to myself and the world while feeling completely and utterly alone in an unfamiliar city.

To make matter worse, I quickly became too afraid to leave my apartment unless it was absolutely necessary. Each time I walked to my car, went to the store, filled my car up with gas, etc.; I would be watched, followed, or offered a place to live by random men on the street. On multiple occasions, I had men blatantly followed me to my car and then knock on my window once I was inside. So not only was I being retriggered back to my mission but I was also experiencing triggers from one of the shared traumas of womanhood: my safety was constantly up to the mercy of strange men.

I felt like I was drowning. Each time I had a few days off I would rush back to Utah in an attempt to get a gulp of fresh air (which is kind of ironic because the air quality in Utah was the worst in the world during this time). I would breathe a sigh of relief each time I saw that my friends didn’t forget about me and my family still loved me. It got to the point that I would drive up into the mountains and would just cry because I missed seeing them every day. I would desperately do all I could to be happy and feel connected to the people/things in Utah before sinking back into the depths of my Vegas Ocean. But each time I came back to Vegas and led a successful tour my “Mckayla you cannot betray all these people who think you are amazing” grew even more intense. The longer I stayed the more frantic I started to feel.

My symptoms immediately became exponentially more diverse, frequent, and intense than they were on my mission. My body was sending me a clear message: GET OUT NOW OR SOMETHING EXTREMELY TERRIBLE IS GOING TO HAPPEN. This caused me to panic even more as soon I realized that I was once again pinned between having to choose between risking disappointing every single person in my entire life OR doing what was best for myself. I realized that in order to be able to fully live I had to choose myself even if it meant losing everyone I had ever known. I know that may sound dramatic, but I genuinely believe(d) that were a possibility if I came home from Vegas early. I also felt horrible for betraying the trust of my employers, once again it sound dramatic but was very real to me. Although I was only in Vegas for a couple of months, it honestly felt like the longest time in the world and I was absolutely miserable.

After I decided to move back to Utah, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being a failure. I felt an immense amount of shame about making such a big deal about moving to a different state and then not being able to handle it. I had wanted SO badly for this to be a wonderful, healing experience but instead, it looked as if I was going to be coming home even more broken than when I left.

About a week before I moved back to Utah, Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics for mental health. The first time I read about this I immediately burst into tears. If a gold-medal Olympic athlete could quit the Olympics, then this Mandarin-speaking Grand Canyon Tour Guide could quit her job and move back to Utah. I know it obviously had nothing to do with me, but it felt like the universe giving me a hug and saying, “it is okay to put yourself first.” This just shows the power of strong role models.

When people ask me why I came home from Vegas, I just tell them because the people there are creepy. Which is true. And there is a good chance that I would have come home early regardless of it triggering me back to my mission because I really was scared for my life. Regardless of the circumstances, coming home early was a big step in rebuilding my trust with myself.

I cannot pretend to know what my life would be like if I had not perfected the skill of abandoning myself in an attempt to please everyone at such a young age. I also cannot pretend to even be close to knowing how to consistently live in a way that would truly make me happy. But what I can say is that the more I have chosen my own comfort over the comfort of others the easier it has been to continue doing so. It is honestly very empowering to slowly be realizing that my needs are worthy of being met, regardless of other people’s opinions of me while doing so (emphasis on the slowly).

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