All through growing up, my parents advised me to limit the extracurricular activities that I participated in. I didn't really listen – especially during my senior year. Much of my time was spent playing violin in my high school orchestra and saxophone in jazz band and marching band. I also played violin in a youth symphony in the area. On top of that, I was the drum major of the marching band and had the responsibility to conduct music and prepare the band for performances. I was also the orchestra class president, and conducted the class frequently as we prepared for our own performances. During my last trimester of high school I was an intern with my orchestra teacher. I got to help teach the 8th and 9th grade orchestras. I was so incredibly busy, but I loved it. Music was my life and my safe place that year.
I had the opportunity to be on the seminary council for my high school seminary, a religious school. The seminary council planned activities and goals for the students of my high school. It was a good experience for me to be actively thinking of ways that I could serve the people around me. I was also a member of the youth committee for a week-long summer camp for the youth in my stake. We met every Sunday morning at 7am from early October until the actual camp in June. My class schedule was pretty heavy. I was taking two AP classes - one of which was calculus - and one concurrent enrollment course.
During the summer before my senior year, I spent a lot of time with a good friend. For the sake of the story, we'll call him Clarence. He had just graduated and was getting ready to go to college. By the time August rolled around, I realized that I liked him a lot and that we were beginning to act like a couple. I had been taught all through growing up to avoid steady dating while in high school. And I believed that it was important and had followed that council as closely as I could. So when I opened my eyes and finally looked at our "friendship" and acknowledged to myself that it was becoming more than that, I knew that something had to change.
After a lot of prayers, I "broke up" with Clarence. I don't know if it counts as a break up because we weren't technically together. But I told him that I needed things to change. I thought that we could still be friends.
More than anything, I wanted Clarence to be happy. To see him afterwards when he wasn't happy made me feel like I needed to do something. Whether he intended it or not, I was manipulated to believe that his struggles were my fault and that I needed to stay with him to help. September through December was a lot of getting back together and breaking up again and blaming myself for it all. Mid December, I told him that I couldn't talk to him anymore and ended all contact.
A different friend asked me to go to senior ball with him. It was literally the same day as when I ended all contact with Clarence. I didn't want to hurt this other friend, but I knew that if I said yes I wouldn't be a good date for him and would probably hurt his feelings more by going with him than by saying no. After saying no to him, whole groups of people at school stopped talking to me.
A friend from work was killed in a car accident during this time as well. He wasn't a close friend - I wouldn't have known him if I hadn't worked with him. It broke my heart and I grieved deeply for him and the pain his family must have been going through. I felt childish for grieving for someone I hadn't known well, and so I tried to keep it to myself.
I have never felt so alone in my life. All of the people that I had looked up to had graduated. I didn't really know how to reach out to anyone my own age and when I did I was brushed aside or what I said was shared with others who didn't need to know. So I pulled deep inside myself.
I didn't know how to handle the stress that was piling on top of me. Some things helped less than others. I started to limit how much I ate. Eventually it became a habit to avoid meals or just eat as little as possible in a day. No, I was not anorexic. But this habit could have become just that had I kept it a secret. I told my mom one day, and just talking about it and having someone else know made it possible to stop. I now strongly believe that keeping our struggles a secret is what gives them the power to grow into all-consuming monsters. I wasn't able to conquer the habit easily and it took time because high levels of stress became a trigger and I would have to start all over. It wasn't until after I got married and could talk with my husband about it every day that I was able to go for months and then a year without giving in to the habit.
Prayer became my refuge. My bedroom had a window facing south and during those winter months when the stars came out so early I would sit on my bed and watch them move across the sky. I had pulled so far down inside myself that I didn't know how to talk with others about the emotions I was feeling. But when I prayed, I was able to open up completely. Sitting on my bed in the dark, I felt peace. And I knew that God heard my prayers. I knew it! It became something that I looked forward to each night. Those stars became precious to me and to this day I feel peace when I see them.
In the middle of the pain and confusion were beautiful things. Some of the most beautiful things I saw that year were in music. My orchestra teacher became my greatest hero. She was struggling with health problems at the time and I didn't really understand the sacrifice she was making until my internship with her. Her dedication to teaching others was so important to her that it gave her strength to do impossible things. I will always remember her as one of the strongest people I have ever known.
I played in Abravanel Hall twice. Once was with the youth symphony that I was a part of. Though I don't remember the pieces that we performed, I remember the power of a symphony that was totally synchronized and breathing together. When we finished playing our last song, I felt like I was waking up from a dream, that those brief moments during our performance were too perfect to be a part of reality.
My second opportunity to perform there was an opportunity that I didn't really deserve. Several people from my youth symphony and other youth symphonies all across Utah were given the opportunity to perform with the Utah Symphony in their All Star Concert. Though I had less experience than almost everyone chosen, I was able to perform in that concert. I should not have been there, but I will never forget that experience. It's one thing to listen to beautiful music, but feeling it is more rare and more magical. Never in my life have I felt music like I did that night. I don't know if I will ever have an experience that was as magical as sitting on that stage.
Even though I felt totally alone, I wasn't. My parents became my best friends that year. They went above the call of duty when it came to supporting me as I sifted through the mess I had made for myself. They didn't demand that I drop anything. They didn't force me to "break up" with Clarence. For my whole life, they taught me what was right and then let me make my own choices. I can guarantee that I would not be a happy me, who loves learning and is happily married and is about to graduate from college (yay!) if it had not been for the constant love that they showed me during that awful time.
All that time praying and watching the stars dance across the night sky taught me that God lives. I know it. I know it - with every fiber of my being! God is my Heavenly Father. Christ is His Son, who knows exactly how I am feeling because He suffered and died for me. And every hard thing that I have experienced since then is okay because I know that I am never alone. He was there with me through every dark night then, and I know that He is here with me now. The Holy Ghost confirms this truth to me every time I think about it.
It's been four years since then, and I am now a senior in college about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in plant science. It took writing this post to realize how many emotional scars I still have to work through. At first I was embarrassed that I still have work to do to resolve those emotions. But as I have written and edited and thought about it, I am okay. I'm okay with the fact that I am feeling these emotions now. I mean, it makes total sense. Bottling and ignoring emotions doesn't make them go away, it just saves them for later. I had worked through some emotions, but not all of them. And writing this opened up that sour, putrid bottle of old emotions. I am okay, because my husband was there to hold me while I cried and help me feel safe. I am okay, because I know that the fear of those days has no foundation now. I am okay because I know that feeling and expressing these emotions now - even though it's a little late - is helping me to heal and grow and become strong again.