Why I Choose to be Vulnerable (And Why You Should Too)

 

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I write a lot of really vulnerable blog posts. Usually, and thankfully, they are well recieved.

But it finally happened- I was finally called out for being too open, too vulnerable.  I was told by an acquaintance that people are turned off by vulnerability, and if I remember correctly, no man would ever want to date me that way.

This was only a matter of time- right? My writing- let alone the rest of my life- IS vulnerable.  It’s gritty and exposing and unflattering.  Anybody watching the “highlight reel” that is my Facebook page is able to get a good dose of reality by coming to my blog and cuddling up with this novel of my weakness and failures.

So yes, I am vulnerable- online, in real life, with my friends, and with strangers.  Isn’t this a bad idea though?  Doesn’t it open me up to being hurt?  Yes, it does.  And no, it doesn’t.

When You Choose Vulnerability

I wish I could say that every time you reach out for help, admit your weaknesses, or in some other way display vulnerability your gesture will be universally well received.  It won’t be.

There will be some people who find it off-putting.  Some people will think of you as obnoxious, needy, burdensome, even, perhaps, pathetic.  The account of the acquaintance at the beginning of this post illustrates how this has happened to me.  It will happen to you, too.

These people will distance themselves.  They will begin avoiding you, if they can.  They may say hurtful things.  They may make you will unimportant and small.  All in all, they will communicate that your weakness makes you unworthy.

They will like you less.  They will want to be around you less.  And that is exactly what you want. Think of it as social exfoliation.

Being vulnerable will drive people out of your life who cannot provide for your needs.  It will rid you of those who don’t want to help strengthen and support you.

And who will be left?

The people who are going to make your life awesome are going to be left.

While being vulnerability will likely remove some people from your life, it has the potential to greatly strengthen your relationships with those who stay.

Think about it- have you ever been nervous about telling someone something about yourself, but then found that they took the news way better than you had expected?  How did they make you feel?  If you’re anything like me, it gave you a new level of trust and connectedness to that person.  It may unlocked the gate to a whole new level of emotional intimacy.

Have you ever had someone help you out in a situation that you may have been embarrassed about?  But instead of being judgmental, they were understanding, caring, and helpful?  How did that make you feel about that person, and, more importantly, how did that make you feel about yourself?

Have you ever had someone sit with you during a breakdown?  Lend you money in an emergency?  Deliver a meal to you in a time of tragedy?  Forgive you when resentment seemed justifiable?  Offer to help you work your way out of a bad situation you got yourself into?  Pray for you, without even being asked?  Clean your house, because, let’s face it, you’re a hot mess?

And they did it all out of love?

It is nice to be respected and admired by those who just know the good stuff I like to show off, don’t get me wrong- but, at least for me, this kind of validation is fleeting at best, and pride-invoking at worst.

I don’t think anything makes me feel more important than being accepted- flaws and all.

Going a step further, knowing that people will love me with my failures makes me far less afraid to fail.  And being less afraid to fail makes me less afraid to try.  And that means more trying.  And that means more succeeding.

Also, it is often so much easier to work through problems with help.  And if they’re the tough kind of problem, you need the kind of help that you can be honest with- not the kind where you are only partially honest about the situation because of the fear of being viewed poorly.

Do you get it?

Willingness to be weak makes it easier to be strong.  Letting people know you have failed makes it easier to succeed.

And all the while, you’re relationships will be rich, rewarding, intimate, and fulfilling.


 

I put off having a blog for a long time.  I wanted to write, but I didn’t feel like I had anything special to write about.  I didn’t cook or craft.  I don’t go on exciting vacations.  I don’t have cute kids.  Then it hit me- I needed to say the things that other people thought, but weren’t willing to say.  I needed to say hard things, and I was probably going to have to say hard things about myself.

The lure of my writing, from what I’ve been told,  is that it is confidently honest about things I’m not confident about.  It is always scary to press the “publish” button, but always worth it.

 

 

 

On Being Fat and Unlovable

I know I’ve said this about a lot of blog topics lately, but this entry is about something especially  sensitive, revealing, and vulnerable.

This is me:

View More: http://bonardenclarkphotography.pass.us/juliet

Photo by Bonarden Clark.

I am a fat woman.  I was a fat child and a fat teenager, too.

Do you feel all squirmy now?  People usually do when they hear me say that.  You see, the word “fat” is culturally synonymous with “unattractive” and “undesired”.  Of course, there are lots of fat people who are attractive and who are desired (by one and by many), but most wouldn’t dare ever call them “fat”.  They use substitutions like “curvy”, “plump”, or “has meat on her bones”.

People hate it when I call myself fat.  Usually I get told in response that I’m beautiful, or that I’m not fat, I’m skinny!  The second response is totally laughable- anyone who has ever met me in my whole life knows I’m not skinny.  The first response is differently problematic- I may be beautiful (or I may not be, that is a subject for a different post), but why would that to oppose being fat?

Being “fat” does not make you “ugly”. Being fat is problematic though, and if somebody is going to talk about it, I guess it’s going to have to be me.


 

There’s this little game I like to play called “When People Talk About Dating, Pretend You Have Something to Contribute.”

In order to play, you have to use phrases like, “I like dates where…” and “Usually guys will…” and “I always wait until…”.  So, basically , you act as if, you know, you go on dates and people, like, like you.  It’s the same way everyone else is acting.  The trick (the GAME part) is that you actually are drawing on very little no experience, and hoping that nobody will find out just how meager your romantic life is.  Really, it’s a thrill.

I will be totally transparent about my dating life: In the last year I have been asked on ONE proper date.  He was not a good match for me.  There have been exactly two other men who I turned down.  Everyone would agree that these two were also not good matches for me.

So that is all- three men in one year found me worthy of their attention.  And, again, none of them were compatible at all.   I guess that in my mind, that basically equals zero.  None.

I am not just unlovable, but am in fact unloved.  Or at least, undesired.

Now, maybe I am missing something, and if I am, I hope somebody will point it out.  But I’m pretty sure that the reason I’m undesired is because I’m fat.

I “put myself out there” just as well as anybody I know.  I attend church EVERY Sunday and usually at least two other Church activities throughout the week.  I make a point of meeting new people and being warm.  Due to copious amounts of time absorbing the awesomeness of the internet, I am able to make conversation based off of just about anyone’s life.  So I should be fine at meeting people, right?  And once you’ve met me?  Well, I do have my weaknesses, but I have really worked hard to not allow my weaknesses to affect other people.  I’m hard to offend, I’m independent, I say what I mean, I deal with things.  Oh, and I’m FUN.  Like, have you ever met me?  I probably am not going to go skydiving off of one of Jupiter’s moons with you, but I’m a pretty “down” girl.  Obviously I have my flaws, but I don’t feel like my flaws make me quite worthy of the rejection I feel.

And I feel it.  Every.  Day.

I am rejected because I’m fat, and maybe because I’m ugly too (again, different post).

Last year I had a friend say something very similar to this, “Juliet, I think you’re great.  You’re pretty, you’re deep, you’re accepting, you’re sophisticated, you’re mature in the gospel.  And if you were thin, I would be falling all over myself to be with you.”

That “if you were thin, I would be falling all over myself to be with you” is an exact phrase.  It is painfully vivid in my memory.

He didn’t mean to be cruel.  He obviously had no idea what it really means to be a woman with a fat body.  I think he thought I was supposed to be flattered by the list that came before the insult.

People are allowed to love who they want to, and be attracted to what they want to.  i would never say that “men like meat” or any other phrase that implies that a man’s preference in female bodies defines his character or masculinity.

But, still, where does this leave me?  It leaves me alone.


 

Mormons love status.  To be honest, I’m not sure if they love it more than others, but so many of us are so similar that it’s easy to to compare our status against one another.  Here are some status buzz phrases for you:

  1. Returned Missionary
  2. BYU
  3. Stay-at-home mom
  4. Bishop (or any other highly visible calling)
  5. all married in the temple (when referring to one’s adult children)
  6. medical (or any other professional) school

LDS people work really hard, generally speaking.  In school, in work, in their families, in the gospel.  And we as teenagers get sold an image of a happy, complete life that we can be proud of.  This is true for both men and women, but I’m going to talk about the men.

What do Mormon men want?  They want money and a respectable career.  They want admiration and to serve meaningfully in the church.  And they want a beautiful family with a beautiful wife.

Being thin is a status symbol (which is why Abercrombie and Fitch refuses to make clothes over a size 14).  In our minds, thin means important and successful.  It’s the standard of “good enough”.

And I, because of my body am just not “good enough”.  Why would somebody be with me, when they don’t have to be?  When they could be with somebody thin who would make them feel good about themselves, who would make them feel like they’ve been successful in at least one part of trying to achieve their status?

I don’t feel like any “good” Mormon man would ever be proud to call me his.  I have a handful of them in my life who I think enjoy me, admire me, and I suppose, probably even love me in a way, but I’m not good enough to be claimed.

I feel like being with me would be admitting defeat.


 

I realize that the tone of this thing is very “woe is me”, but these thoughts have been screaming inside my soul for years and years.  It is so embarrassing to talk about and to write about, but this isn’t issue I can keep to myself.  I mean that literally.  Everywhere I go, my fatness goes with me.  And everywhere I go, I get written off for it.

This is not a call for anybody to love me, or for men to be more willing to date fat women, or for women in general to be more accepting of themselves.  I just need to let people know what it’s like to feel like nothing about you matters accept the width of your hips (if we were basing status off of the width of my waist, I would probably pass, but alas).

And that’s all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Year Ago Today

A year ago today was the worst day of my life.
A year ago today was a sad, rainy February Saturday.  I spent most of its hours in a hospital.

I arrived around 2 AM to the ICU to take my shift staying with my mom, relieving my brother.  I don’t remember a lot about those first few hours, except for that I could not for the life of me find a comfortable sleeping position in an upright hospital arm chair.  Around 4:00 or 5:00, I stepped out of the unit to…do something (who knows what it was).  As I returned, a few nurses were pushing a hospital bed out the doors.

“Where are they taking my jacket?” I wondered.  It didn’t immediately occur to me that not only my jacket, but also my mother, was on that bed.  After 2 1/2 days in intensive care, we were moving upstairs to the PCU.

The PCU was like a dream come true.  The spacious room had an actual door instead of sliding glass.  I was relieved to see a cot in the room, and pleased when our new nurse offered me not only a blanket, but a snack.

I closed my eyes, but the heart monitor beeped loudly every time I was about to fall asleep. My mom slept some, but woke up frequently, asking questions that I didn’t have answers to and attempting to rearrange the myriad of medical devices she was hooked up to.  She was recovering from brain surgery and her mind had a lot to work out yet.

My dad arrived to the room around 6:30.  I stayed with them for a while before deciding to head home for some real rest. The next several hours are very blurry in my memory.  I think I may have eaten what was leftover of my breakfast burrito.  I think I may have watched TV while I ate it.  I may have stopped by my sister’s house.  I may have called a friend or two.

But I know that sometime during the early afternoon I ended up back at the hospital.  My dad and my sister was hanging up “get well, Grammy” drawings and messages of “complete healing”.  Shortly after I arrived, the neurosurgeon invited the three of us down the hall to look at the monitors that displayed the MRI images of the tumor on my moms brain- the tumor he had attempted to remove three days prior, but was only able to cut out a small piece for biopsy.

He showed us images from different angles, pointed out swelling, and explained that the tumor had “fingers” that made it impossible to surgically remove without causing life-ending or life-ruining damage.  The lab results had not come back yet, and he reiterated that it was impossible to know the diagnosis or prognosis.

Lo and behold, before we left the room, he noticed a tab on his desktop which he had previously been oblivious to.  He clicked it, quickly skimmed through it, and told us that some preliminary lab results suggested that the tumor was caused by a bacterial infection.  If that was the case, good news!  Antibiotics are miraculous, after all.  We felt encouraged and hopeful for a moment.

But then another tab appeared.  The final lab results had just come in.  He clicked it, quickly skimmed through it, and just said, “oh”.  He avoided eye contact with any of us as he moved across the room to grab the print out of what he had been reading.  I saw the paper.  It had a lot of words on it that I didn’t know.  But I recognized one thing- and it was the only thing that really mattered: “Grade 4”.

He explained that it was a glioblastoma, which I would later learn is both the most common as well as the most aggressive form of brain cancer.  He didn’t attempt to give a prognosis.  “There are, of course, textbook statistical averages, but every case is different.”

Well of course every case is different, but this was my mom!  My mom who had cancer!  In her brain!  What was I going to have to prepare myself for?

“So what is the textbook statistical average?”  I asked him.  My family members looked at me as if they were both relived and afraid that I had asked.

The doctor didn’t miss a beat, “A year and a half.”

A year and a half.  For my mother- the woman who had been planning on riding her bike through Spain a few months later.  Who was going to Australia at the end of the year.  Who  did yoga and had a personal trainer.  Who volunteered at, ironically, the hospital, every week.  Who decorated cakes and carved clay figurines and made baby quilts and threw all of the family parties.

We walked solemnly back to her room, and the doctor gave her the news so cryptically that my dad had to clarify the seriousness of the prognosis.  “A year and half”, however, wasn’t mentioned.

I remember crying on my knees at the foot of her bed, but other than that I don’t remember much about that afternoon.  My brother showed up that evening, my dad gave him the news, more crying.  My father and sister then left the hospital, and I went down to the cafeteria to eat while my brother stayed with my mom.

I ate a thai curry dish that had been sitting waiting to be eaten most of the day while I returned a call to a friend.  He had just found out that his wife was pregnant.  When I returned to the room, all of the lights were off, my mom was asleep, and my brother was sitting next to her bed, in the dark, watching her.

“This poor boy,” I thought, “this poor boy has been sitting here for the past hour, in the dark, thinking about his mom dying.”

He offered to spend the night, and I went home.  I immediately turned in for the night, but then I heard my dad turn the TV on.  I don’t know why, but I felt like I needed to get out of bed and watch TV with my dad.  We watched one episode of Modern Family.  It felt strange, but good, to be able to laugh.

After the show, I went back to bed, bawled like a baby, and fell asleep, ending the worst day of my life.

*******

My mom came home a few weeks later.  She spent most of her time in a hospital bed in our  living room and was visited twice a week by a nurse.  She began chemotherapy and radiation and a month later.  She required physical therapy, as she had lost her ability to move the left side of her body after the surgery.  She took a lot of pills.  She suffered from horrible anxiety episodes.

But things have gotten easier since then.  Every day she pushes her wheelchair as far as she can down the street, and when she can’t go anymore, she pushes it and my dad pushes her home.  I think she’s up to half a mile now.  The hospital bed is long gone, as is the visiting nurse.  The anxiety has also subsided (praise God).

She just finished her 10th round of chemotherapy, and wears an electromagnetic treatment device on her head 24/7.  The tumor spent several months shrinking, and is now what the doctors call “stable”.

I wish I could report that a miracle healing has occurred.

Instead, I am here to report that a miracle life has occurred.   Do you want to know what the good thing is about having the worst day of your life?  It means every other day is better.

I wish that I could go back to myself a year ago while I was crying at the foot of her bed that day and show me what the next year would bring.  I would show us reading in the front room of our vacation beach house.  I would show Thanksgiving dinner.  I would show Christmas eve.  I would show playing games and laughing until we cry.  I would show raising over $2,000 for brain cancer research.  I would show my mom in her craft room, making the shirts we wore when we raised that $2,000.  I would show her out to lunch with her girlfriends.  I would show the doctor’s huge smile as he explained the good news of how well the tumor was responding.  It is amazing how many wonderful things can happen, even in the midst of the worst experiences of our lives.

I am apprehensive to express gratitude, because I don’t want to give anyone the impression that this reality has not been emotionally excruciating.  It has been.  But I am thankful.  I am not thankful for the disease or for the trial or for the sense of loss.  I am thankful that God has used this experience to open my eyes to the beauty and generosity of life and the bounty of His love.

 By the way, when you have a brain tumor like mine, you easily qualify for social security disability. One question they asked me was “do you have a condition that is expected to result in death?” I wanted to answer, “well duh, everyone does. It’s called life.”- My mom

 

 

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Planting Doubt: How I Almost Quit the Church

This is another one of those “do I dare say these things?” posts- but this one is the dariest of them all.

I love having a blog for the purpose of expressing myself and reaching out to people.  The most frequent comment I get on it might be, “you said what I was thinking, but didn’t know how to say.”  This makes me happy, because I like being the person who is willing to speak up and say the things that everyone else is thinking. It makes me feel powerful and important.

But it also makes me feel vulnerable.

I bare a lot with my writing- my weaknesses, my sins, my questions, my failures, my insecurities- and every time I do, I wonder if I am crossing over the line.  The line of respectable, the line of likable, the line of credible.  It always feels like I am taking a risk in sharing a little bit too much about a “little bit the wrong thing”.  I care what people think of me, and while I don’t want to be intimidated into silence, I would rather keep a few things to myself than have people find me distasteful or too brazen.

So, I’m nervous about this, but I am willing to go forward if you are.  We are going to get right down to the nitty gritty, right away:

Last fall, I almost left the Mormon Church.

Yup, I really almost did.

By “almost left”,  I mean that I was one step away from disassociating myself from my Mormon identity.  I no longer felt the need to be approved of by the Church, and was looking to find God somewhere else.

Whilst preparing to become a seminary teacher, I wrote the following words in my journal, bolded, capped, and twice as big as everything else:

NEVER PLANT DOUBT

This has been one of my mantras though teaching and after teaching.  I never wanted, and still don’t want, to shake people’s faith.  This is why what I am about to say will be news to almost everybody.  Even when I was at my very closest to being gone, you would have never known it.  Church on Sunday, scriptures in my lap, smile on my face.  I kept my spiritual situation private both for the sake of my own reputation, but also because I didn’t want to be a negative influence on the spiritual journey of others.

And I still don’t want that- I never want to plant doubt.  I worry about this being read by my former seminary students, or EFY kids, or anybody else who has ever looked up to me or considered me “stalwart”  (I’ve been called that and I hate it).  In writing this, I am running some risks.

However, I want to be bold in my inkling that there is more good that will come from this than harm.  I have a few aims in writing this:

To express my love for God and for His Creations.

To help active LDS members understand why people leave.

To give hope to those who are thinking about leaving or who have left.

To help people be open about the process of dealing with doubt and disbelief.

I Was Wrong

I had always believed that people left the Church for one of the following reasons:

  1. They were unrepentant sinners, trying to justify themselves in wrongdoing.
  2. They never really had a testimony.
  3. They became offended, or had some other petty issue, and decided to disassociate themselves because they couldn’t just work it out.
  4. Generally, they were prideful, and lovers of themselves instead of lovers of God.

In summary, I didn’t think that good people left.  I made them a villain, and resented them for treating the most important thing in my life like it meant nothing at all.

Also, it scared me, because it shook me.  If they, especially those who had once seemed os faithful, could leave, then couldn’t anybody?  Couldn’t I?  And what would that mean?

Waking Up

I am not interested in talking about the specific issues that shook my faith in the Church, because they aren’t very important to me at this point.  It’s not that they are necessarily resolved in my eyes, but I’ve just moved on. However, I would like to share what caused me to “wake up” to the fact that there were some issues with my spiritual location.

I had an institute teacher dedicate one day to talking about “the hard issues”, the things that people use to discredit the Church.  They included blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, Mountain Meadows massacre, and a few other issues.

He tried really hard to resolve issues and concerns, but, at the end of the class, I was more confused than I had ever been.

My struggle, summed up:  We seem to be able to look at the actions and words Church leaders in the past that don’t sit well with us now and say, “everybody makes mistakes” or, “that was just one apostle” or, “he wasn’t speaking as the prophet at the time”.  Basically, we accept that mistakes and been made, and that we can move on from those.

So I raised the question, “So, how do we know today if a Church leader is speaking prophetically?  Or if he speaks for everyone?  Or if he isn’t making  a mistake?”

And nobody had a good answer.

I guess that people either think that what was once possible (leaders making mistakes) is no longer possible, or that it is better that we obey absolutely everything, even if it isn’t actually right, or actually the will of God.  The former doesn’t make sense, and the latter was not going to work for me.

The Turmoil

After that, I began to see a lot of things in the Church that I had never witnessed, or at least paid attention to, previously.  Inconsistency of doctrine, inconsistency of teachings, unfair and discriminatory practices. And some things were not bad, but, frankly, ridiculous. (Meet the Mormons, if you know what I mean.)  I saw the ways that people, especially young people, were manipulated into believing, or at least into acting like they believed.  My eyes were opened to the relationships with God people were having in other religions and life styles, and began to feel  a lack of authentic and enthusiastic worship in the Mormon culture.

And all the while, I felt like God was opening my eyes.  I know that, if you are a true blue, rank and file Mormon you are shaking your head right now and thinking, “this poor girl has been deceived”, but I absolutely felt like what I went through was a revelatory experience.

I felt, for a while, that I was going to have to choose between the Church, and God.

The Conflict

At this point, one might be wondering why I didn’t just leave.

I said I almost left, and that “almost” is loaded with meaning and experience.

While I began to feel easy about the general establishment of Mormonism, the truth is that I didn’t want to leave it.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. All of my friends, just about, are LDS.
  2. There are people who look up to me spiritually and I didn’t want to have hard conversations with them.
  3. Ordain Women was the talk of the town at the time.  While I don’t think that women one day getting the priesthood is an impossibility, I have never felt disrespected or disregarded because of my gender.  Actually, I feel that, as a woman, I am treated better in the Church than maybe anywhere else.
  4. I love the values of the Mormon community- family, service, sacrifice.  We are not perfect, but we usually take these things seriously.
  5. I love serving in the Church, especially teaching from the scriptures.
  6. I actually really like living Church standards, and find them liberating.
  7. Generally, the Church has NEVER done wrong by me.  I have no complaints about it, generally or specifically, in regards to my interaction with it.

 

So I was left dealing with the following premises:

  1. I want to be in the Church.
  2. I don’t agree with the Church as often as I feel comfortable with.
  3. I don’t want to pretend to believe something I don’t believe.

And having to choose from the following options:

  1. Leave the Church
  2. Stay in the Church and try to ignore the cognitive dissonance I would have for the rest of my life.
  3. Stay in the Church and privately disagree.

I was not okay with any of these.  I take pride in being genuine, and if I was going to stay, I was going to mean it.  I did;t want to be one of those people in church with that dead, meaningless look in their eyes, like the reality of a living God was as regular as sweeping the kitchen floor, or as insignificant as a single blade of grass being picked from your lawn.  I wanted to love church, and love THE Church.  I wanted to mean it, to be enthusiastic, to feel saved, to feel excited.  So faking it wasn’t going to work.

So then, was I going to go?

Why I Stayed

The thing about going is that you have to go to somewhere else.

And this realization is what stopped me from leaving, dead in my tracks.

When I joined the Church over 11 years ago, I felt like if Christianity was legitimate, than this church was it.  If anybody knew the truth about Jesus, it was the Mormons.

Through all of my questions and doubts, I never doubted God, only the Church.

A few times I tried telling myself that I was done with religion all together, that atheism was simple, and that I would be happy to former have the whole “is this the right church?” issue behind me.  I entertained this notion for a few seconds, and then moved on from it.

Because, for me, not believing in God is a joke.

There’s no way I don’t believe.  I just do.  And I want to.

And not just God generally, but Jesus.  I really believe in Jesus and in His atonement.  I wouldn’t believe in it if I hadn’t experienced it, but I have experienced it.  It’s not just a mental understanding of what supposedly happened.  It’s not just demotivating myself to change because I believe in a God who wants me to.  I have felt the actual atonement work in me, being something separate from me.  I have been healed by it, enlightened by it, and transformed by it.

I say this all the time, and I will say it till the day they put me in the ground: Jesus Christ is my God and my Savior.  He is real and he is relevant.

Leaving religion altogether was not a real option- only leaving Mormonism for a different Christian sect.

All of my experience with Christ and His atonement falls in line with the teaching of the LDS Church, especially what we learn about Him in the Book of Mormon. (That’s another issue for another blog- the reality of the spiritual experiences I’ve had with that book.)

I am not going to turn my back on what I know, and in my heart, I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is special- it’s unique in the most significant way a Church could be unique: I think it’s actually got the truth.

How I Deal

In case there is any confusion, let me make myself totally plain:  I generally accept the eternal doctrines espoused by the Church as true.  I have an enthusiastic testimony of many of these doctrines.  My cause of concern, or reason I almost left, revolves around the way in which decisions are made for the Church today.  I feel that there is a discrepancy sometimes between the Lord’s involvement and the degree to which we are supposed to believe that the Lord is involved.

Because God is perfect and the Church is not.

Like I said, I don’t want to be half-in- I don’t want to come to church but not care, because I’ve become numb to skepticism.  I want to be all in, and all honest.  What does that mean?

That means, straight up, that if I get some directive from the Church, at any level, that I don’t genuinely believe to be the will of God, I won’t comply.

I am not saying that I will always be right, but I am saying that if I am wrong, that will be between me and God, thank you very much.

Also, I prefer that everything that comes down from the top, or the middle, or just from right above me, really feels right.  I am okay with being asked to do difficult things, but I’m not okay with doing things in the name of God that I don’t really believe are His will.

That would make me a bad Christian, and I would rather be a good Christian than a good Mormon.

A Law Unto Myself

I realize that there are people reading this who are assuming that I am sinful, or faithless, or deviant.  And, at least to some extent, those people are right.

After all, are we not all sinners?  I certainly am.

I have asked myself frequently over the last year, “Am I having doubts because I am just evil?  Am I just too prideful?  Have my sins consumed me to the point of being hard, beyond feeling?”

In other words, is it just me?  Are all those things I used to believe about people who love the Church true, but I am able to see it because now I AM it?

If you think that my faith crisis was entirely due to sin, you’re wrong.  If you think I am blameless, you are also wrong.  I am somewhere in the middle, and the only thing more I will say about my personal righteousness is that I am grateful for a forgiving God.

If You’re Having Doubts

If you, too, are troubled by your doubts, I would recommend a few things to help you work it out.

  1. Write down what you DO believe.
  2. Be fair in your moral self-evaluation.  Get rid of your pet sins.  Repent of those sinful things you’ve been putting off repenting of.
  3. Pray to know the truth, and be open to WHATEVER God has to tell you.  I major milestone for me was praying without the idea that I was “doing it wrong” if God didn’t make me feel like “I know the Church is true, I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today”, in that order.
  4. Try to cling to the fact that God is real and aware of you.

In Closing

This really has been a very brief overview, and while there is so much more I could say, I probably won’t say much.  Like I said, I have mostly moved on from the specifics of the issues which I have found troubling, and I don’t want what I don’t know about to distract me from what I do know.

However, as always, I am happy to talk.  I have a feeling that what I have written will resonate with at least a few people, and I want you (whoever you are), to know that there is hope.  There is a way for you to at peace with your God and with your church.

I hope that I have been able to shed some light on the fact that there are good, righteous, loving people who leave the church because they feel it is their best option.  I am not one of them, but I understand them, at least to a degree.

I hope that all will truly find God.  I don’t know what that will look like for everyone, but I know what it means for me.

Sunday morning, 11am.

I’ll see you there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer, Cats, and the Grief I Didn’t Know Existed

This has been a slow blogging year for me.  I normally blog about whatever gripping issue I can’t get off my mind, but this year, I haven’t really been able to talk about what has been on my mind.

In February, my mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma, which is stage 4 brain cancer.  I’ve had so much to say about it.  I’ve wanted to write so many things.  I’m not sure if not talking about it here has been the right thing to do.  Either way, it’s been hard to not synthesize my thoughts and send them out into the world.

I normally talk about general issues that kind of and sort of apply to potentially everyone.  Am I vague enough?  My point- I don’t feel like anyone is very invested in anything I have to say .  This topic is very different.  I don’t want to upset people.  Especially not my family.  It’s not that I might say anything cruel or untrue, but, to be supremely euphemistic, it is a sensitive topic.

There is so much I could say.  So mush I will say eventually.

*******

Stake conference rolled around several weeks after my mom was diagnosed, and it was a struggle to get there.  I remember laying in bed and thinking to myself, “nothing they are going to talk about has anything to do with me.”  I was wrong.  A young woman whose cancer was in remission had been asked to speak.  Now the fact that she had cancer, while coincidental, is not the point of this story. The point is that she said words similar to these, describing how she reacted to her diagnosis: “I had just been going about my young single adult life, having fun, when I was hit with this.  I had had no idea that the sadness I subsequently experienced even existed in the world.”

That is it.  I had no idea that this kind of sadness even existed.  That is really what this post is about- sadness.

This has been a weepy week for me in particular.  I’m not sure why, nor do I care.  I don’t owe anyone an explanation and neither do my emotions.  It’s so funny though, the times it hits you.  In the bathroom at a dinner party, in your chemistry lab, getting out of the shower, listening to a friend talk about their new car.  It sometimes stays for hours, or minutes, or sometimes it’s just a twinge, hardly even present enough to be noticed.

It wanders around my life like a spoiled and independent house cat.  It can’t be summoned- strangely enough, I have tried.  There have been moments when I didn’t feel like I felt sad enough, especially when having to listen to the lamenting of others.  It also is not easily shooed away.  It just lifts its head, stares you in the face for a few moments, and then settles back into it place.

It also usually hides when company comes over.  Most people wouldn’t even know that you had a cat.

Lately my life has been really great.  I have a job that I enjoy and where I feel appreciated.  I am maintaining my 4.0 and actually am having fun in my labs.  I’ve been camping 6 times in the last five months.  I’ve decided to train for a half marathon and that is coming along slowly, but surely.  I love my ward and feel more comfortable at church than I have in years.  I have a number of true, close friends who I feel like I can be completely genuine and even vulnerable with.  So things are going great, and I think that that’s how it probably looks to others.  What in the world do I have to be sad about?

And I even allowed to be sad?  Sometimes I feel like I’m not.

Tonight after my institute class I did my regular socializing and mingling.  I was happy to be there, but as I found myself staring into people’s eyes as they spoke to me about their surgery, or their boyfriend, or their classes, or whatever, and thinking, “I wish you knew how I felt right now.  I wish you knew that I am on the verge of weeping.”  It’s like half of my brain is there with them, laughing, flirting, talking about nothing, and the other half only experiences hurt. I want people to know, but I’m not going to tell people, because then what?  What can be said?  Nothing.

Now, I do appreciate people’s kind and supportive words.  I feel their love and love them for it.

But love and grief can coexist.

And so can joy and grief.  Maybe not in anyone else, but they can, and do, in me. I will never let sadness feel welcome in my heart, but, while it is here, I am willing to acknowledge its contribution.  It is the greatest educator I have ever had.  It is the most refining fire I have ever endured.  It is the most fruitful field I have ever been forced to reap.

Grief has made me calmer, kinder, and more gentle.  It has made me more grateful and less expectant.  It has opened my eyes to the good of this world, and has shown me how pathetic a negative outlook is. I feel like this is where  I am supposed to say that I am grateful for my trials- that they make me stronger.  I’m not grateful- as a matter of fact, this trial can go die in a fire.  I will never thank my circumstance, because it is horrible.

But I will be thankful for the fruits of my trial.  I am contained to be so, I feel like I have no choice in the matter.  My thanks is to God.

Life is beautiful, and also sometimes horrible.  One single moment can be both grand and devastating. We do need to know the bitter to know the sweet, but the bitter will never be sweet to us.

*******************************

Just as a P.S., we keep a blog for my mom called Marcia the Outlier, which we share to keep people informed on her condition, and also as a form of outreach to other GBM patients and their families.

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It’s Not Funny to Terrorize Your Wife

I would like to call attention to a growing internet epidemic- men terrifying their wives, recording it, and putting it on social media for the world to take pleasure in.  It really is just a jerkbag thing to do.

Now, I love myself a good scare video- one where somebody is startled and has an extreme reaction to something that really is entirely non-threatening.  The fear is quick, and is usually gone before the victim has any time to mentally process what is going on.  Here is one of my favorite compilations:

You may not find these as funny as I do, but you can see the humor, right?

However, can somebody please explain to me the humor in this:

Now, sure, he may have not realized that this would scare her as bad as it did, but why would you even post the video after she had that kind of reaction?  If I did something that inadvertently caused someone I loved to cry tears of fear, I don’t know why I would want to glorify that moment by putting it on the internet.

But maybe we can just chalk it up to slightly poor judgement and a girlfriend who’s a real good sport?

But what about this?:

Or this?:

Why is that obnoxious music playing, as if something cool just happened?

And what am I missing here?  Who is finding this funny?  Who is laughing at this?

9 Things Mormon Girls Should Understand About Guys and Porn, But Don’t

Let me start off by saying that this post is for, you guessed it, Mormon girls.  By girl, I am thinking unmarried females in the 14-30ish range.  If you are older than that, or married, or are not female, you are welcome to read and comment if you like, just know that this has a targeted audience.

I am frequently surprised at the false ideas surrounding pornography use and addiction in the LDS culture, particularly among young, single women.  I’m not by any means an expert on the issue, but the fact that people want to constantly spill their guts to me has given me some perspective on the issue.

My purpose in writing this list is to help young women to have a clear understanding of the issue as they prepare for marriage.  I am only going to talk about pornography in the context of male usage, but know that I would never want to convey the idea that pornography is a “male” problem.  For more on female pornography use, please read Not Just to Young Men Only: On Being a Girl with a Porn Problem

Disclaimer: I am not married, and I also do not use porn, so my ideas should probably be taken with a grain of salt.  If I say that I “think” something, I am basically guessing.  As always, I am totally open to both perspective and correction.

  • Most men have viewed porn.  And by “view”, I don’t mean “happen to have seen a pop-up ad”.  I mean they have sought it out. And it’s not the creepy guys (well, them too, but not just them.)   It’s the Elder’s Quorum President, it’s your EFY counselor, it’s the kid who just came home from his mission three weeks ago, it’s the guy who is always first to start setting up and last to finish taking down, the one who goes to the temple every week, the one who gives the sweetest, most heart-felt testimonies, maybe even the onle you feel that you will never be good enough for- yup, him too.  Now there are lots of guys who have never chosen to indulge, and there are lots of guys who have worked hard to overcome the challenge.  I don’t make this point to say that you should accept that porn will be a part of your marriage- I make this point to let you know that you will probably have to be understanding on some level.
  • Sometimes the porn doesn’t start until after the wedding.  This is not to scare you.  Rather, it is to let you know that it really isn’t practical to insist on only marrying somebody who has never looked at it, because nobody is foolproof.  It is fairly uncommon, but sometimes men do get addicted to porn after the marriage.Just because he hasn’t doesn’t mean he won’t.
  • If he looks at porn, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.  Fight The New Drug has a pretty cute phrase that has taken root in our community: “Porn Kills Love”.  While porn can certainly drive a wedge in relationships, I think our cultural consciousness has become confused into thinking that a porn user can’t love anybody, ever, or that they will begin to sabotage the their relationships in all kinds of extreme  ways (I’m thinking of a Mormon Message where the dad will no longer color with his kids because of porn).  While it is difficult to learn of a porn habit, I think it is even more (and unnecessarily) difficult to automatically believe that you are not loved because of it.
  • There are different kinds of porn.  It ranges from girls in bikinis to things too vulgar for me to write on my blog.  I had assumed that all guys looked at the really violent, degrading, extreme things.  Some do, but some don’t even watch the performance of sexual acts at all.  I am not trying to communicate that any kind of porn is okay, but sometimes understanding a little bit more of the details can be helpful in trying to work through a porn problem.
  • Marriage doesn’t cure porn.  I could go into more detail, but then I would rob myself of a 6th bullet point!  The reason marriage doesn’t cure porn is because…
  • Viewing porn and having sex are different experiences.  This may seem a little bit obvious, but let explain why this is important.  While viewing porn and being intimate with another person are both sexual experiences, one is all about immediate gratification and self-satisfaction, while the other often requires patience, understanding, and teamwork.  I think that sex was designed to be an appropriately  therapeutic experience.  Porn is also serves as a form of therapy- it distracts and numbs a frazzled mind or a hurting heart.  Thus, many porn users keep the habit not just for the sexual gratification, but also as a way to self-soothe.  Even when a sexual relationship becomes available to them, it is easier to get the soothing experience from porn, where they don’t have to do any work, than from actual sex, where they have to be concerned with the wants and needs of another person.
  • Masturbation and pornography do not always happen together.  They often do, but it seems to me that the assumption is that they necessarily go hand in hand.  I’m just here to let you know that if he masturbates that doesn’t means he’s looking at porn, and if he is looking at porn that doesn’t mean he’s masturbating.  That topic is going to get a post of it’s own one of these days if my readership thinks they can stomach it.
  • It is never because you are not good enough.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad girlfriend or wife, and it especially doesn’t mean that you are underperforming sexually, or are not attractive or desirable enough.  The truth is that no one woman will ever be able to compete with the world of porn when it comes to the ability to engage and excite the natural man.  Please notice that I said “the natural man”.  The “spiritual man” most definitely can find his devoted mate more desirable than anything in the world, but I think that in order for that to happen, there has to be a level of emotional involvement.
  • People break the habit.  And they break it for good.  Sometimes it takes years of trying, but I could give you a list of men that I know personally who have been able to move beyond porn, and many of them are wonderfully happily married.
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Communication GAPs: On Not Being Offended Because You Really Never Know

Guys, GAP is having a great sale right now- 40% off the entire store.  I have been there three times this weekend.

During my visit on Friday, I was squatting at a low shelf searching through stacks of jeans trying to find my trusty dark wash size 14 skinnys when I heard a woman near me say something like, “Do you guys not have these jeans in over a size 10?”

A few seconds passed before I realized that nobody was responding to her.  I took a quick glance around and realized that we were kind of alone in our corner of the store.

“Might she be asking me???,” I thought to myself.  “Do I look like I work here?”  I was wearing a mint green promo T-Shirt, grubby, jeans, sandals, and a ponytail.  I didn’t have a cart of a lanyard or a badge or a radio or, I thought, any of the other items that usually gives one away as an employee of a retail store.  Surely she couldn’t have been talk to me!  But…nobody else was around, so, surely, she was.

I found myself amused at the honest mistake and was interested in finding out what led her to make it, so I look up and i asked,

Do I look like I work here?

Are you seeing why this was problematic?  I was asking her an honest, friendly question about my outfit and what it may or may not have resentful.  But the way she heard it was, “Of course I don’t work here, you dumb broad!”

She responded with something like, “Oh well you just really looked like you knew what you were doing.” (Which, granted, I did.)

I tried making a friendly remark, which was probably also interpreted as annoyed and rude, and she walked away without responding.

This poor woman- she was asking for help, and she got rudely snapped at by some stranger with a bad attitude.

The thing is, this stranger wasn’t snapping, or being rude, and actually had a fine attitude.  It’s just that the words I used (which suited the circumstance perfectly) were also words one might used if they were trying to be cuttingly sarcastic.

I offended her.  No offense was meant.

So next time somebody says something rude, assume they are trying to be sweet and just happened to use words that sounded rude to you.

“What is wrong with you?” could be an honest expression of concern.

“Your outfit isn’t great” could mean that your outfit is flippin’ awesome.

“Get out of my face” could mean that you owe it to yourself to take a nice vacation because you’ve been under a lot of stress lately and you would first need to get out of their face since their face is not on vacation.

And even if they do mean these things the rude way, they will stop meaning it once you act oblivious to their jerkiness.  :)

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When Your Mission Ends Early and It’s The Best Thing That’s Ever Happened to You

Guys, this is the post I’ve been afraid to write.

On this blog, I’ve talked about all kinds of sensitive subjects- mental illness, abortion, gay marriage, and pornography to name a few.  While I am usually pretty open about my mental processes regarding these tough issues, I actually tend to stay fairly guarded when it comes to how they affect me personally and emotionally.

This post, however, is going to be the mother of personal and emotional.  It’s the post I’ve been needing to write for about 6 years, and afraid to write for just as long.  Brothers and sisters, today I’ve been assigned to talk about:

My mission.

*****

I struggled with depression from my late childhood on up through college, however, by the time I was able to serve a mission, I was on a pretty good combo of meds that kept me balanced.  So off I went to preach the gospel.

The first few months of my mission were wonderful- challenging and frigid cold, but wonderful.  Somehow though, things took a turn for the worst- and I lost my mind.

I cried every day- usually during personal study time and after we were done planning for the evening.  Truth be told, there was no good reason for me to be so upset, but my depression-laden mind told me that I was a horrible and a useless missionary, and that I would never be able to do anything good or important on my mission.  I began to see the downs in the normal ups and downs of missionary life as being entirely my fault. (Ex: Feeling like an unfruitful tracting session occurred because of my general ineptitude.)

I had a hard time understanding why God was doing this to me.  I had always been told that it was Satan who gave us sad, unproductive, and pessimistic thoughts, and that I simply needed to draw closer to the Savior.  Well, at that point, I was literally knocking on people’s doors day in and day out, had moved halfway across the country, put my school on hold when I was only 6 months away from finishing my degree, and had cut off almost all contact with my (nonmember) family all for the cause of Christ.  How could I have been any closer?  I remember, as I knelt in prayer one night, wondering if this was some kind of a joke.  If there was somebody who deserved a little bit of piece of mind, wasn’t it me?

Usually when I prayed during this time, I just felt empty space.  However, at one point I began to experience something even worse.  When I would attempt to pray, my mind would immediately be filled with vivid and horrible images of my own death.  There were a few different scenes that played out in my head, but the one that I saw most frequently was death by lethal injection- and I was the one doing the injecting.  I imagined that I had a syringe in one hand, extended the opposite arm, and injected myself with some kind of poison that would kill me quickly and painlessly.  For some reason, the poison was blue.

And God was nowhere.  I realize that this makes people uncomfortable- but I honestly felt then and continue to feel now (in respect to that period of my life) that God was simply not available to me.  There are probably some people who are thinking to themselves, “she must have have been doing something wrong!  Where was her faith?!  God always helps us when we ask for it.”  And I reply with a polite, “Go to hell.”

Well, you don;t have to go to hell, but the idea that I was suffering because I was unworthy can burn next to the devil himself.

I of course do not claim perfection, but everything I know about life, the gospel, and truth in general tells me that my pain was requisite of my sin.

This is part of the reason why I have been afraid to wrote this post: The only way I can understand what happened is that God refused to comfort me.  And it felt terribly cruel.

*****

I didn’t choose to come home.  My mission president became aware of the extent of my struggles through another sister.  I didn’t want her to tell him per se, but I wasn’t upset that she had.  He called me around 10 pm on a Sunday night and told me to pack all of my things and come to the mission office first thing the following morning.  You should know that the mission office was a five hour drive from where I was serving.

I didn’t think he was going to send me home.  I thought he was going to turn me into a Visitor’s Center sister.  Either way, I wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but I knew that God was involved.  The drive from my area to Independence the next morning was one of the most peace-filled experiences of my life.  I didn’t know what was going to happen, but the Spirit told me that God had been hearing my prayers, and that he was finally going to help me.

Upon arriving at the mission office, my mission president immediately invited me into his office, sat me down, and, perhaps before saying anything (if he did say something it was brief and inconsequential) handed me my plane ticket home.

Arrangements had been made for me to leave before I even knew that was going to happen.

I hear a lot about the crazy shit that other missionaries do, and sometimes still feel a little bit bitter that I was dismissed so thoughtlessly while other people caught to spend their whole missions goofing off and having little regard for the work.

I probably sound a little bit contradictory right now, as I look back on that experience, I feel both resentment at gratitude.  I still haven’t quite worked these feelings out, but the rest of the story is only about love.

*****

After that meeting with my mission president, he sent me across the parking lot to the Visitor’s Center to use a phone to call my family.  My mom answered, and I of course just began to bawl.  I explained to her what was happening.  I could here the smile on her face as she exclaimed, “Oh honey!  This is the best news I could have gotten!”  She then told me that everybody who really loved me, and really knew me, was just going to be proud of me.

That was hard for me to believe at the time.  I was so fearful of coming home- how could people respect me after I had failed at the one thing I felt like I was good at?  From the time I had joined the church 5 years prior, everybody told me how great of a missionary I would be.  I had a testimony, I was a good teacher, and I was obedient, but, when it came down to it, I was not a great missionary.

When I arrived at the airport the next day, I called a good friend who had had to come home early from her mission for medical reasons from a pay phone.  Man of man, was I grateful to have somebody who understood and who didn’t pass any kind of judgement.

I had a layover in Dallas on my way home.  It is weird to be a missionary, in an airport, alone- especially in my condition of trying to decide how I was going to hide my face in shame for the rest of eternity as soon as the next plane touched down in California.  I ended up at  food court where I bought a taco for $8.  The young cook who gave me my taco called me “sister”, and I somehow established that he was also LDS, and had actually recently returned home from his mission.  I told him that my mission was over and I was heading home, and he congratulated me without knowing that my mission had only lasted 5 months.  I felt a little bit guilty for not disclosing it, but hey, he didn’t ask, and either way, there was something comforting to me about being acknowledged as a missionary one last time.

Other people get huge welcoming committees when they come home from their missions. I had one person at the airport waiting for me- my dad.  He didn’t have a sign, or a balloon, or even tears (prior to my mission I had been an adventurous college student who only visited my parents when obligated to by the closure of the dorms, so being without me for a few months wasn’t a world-rocker for him).  He was just standing there at the bottom of the escalator, with his sleeves rolled up and his tie off and that “it’s been a long day at work” look on his face.  On the day I left with my family to go to Utah to enter the MTC, my dad sat down on my bed and said, “Juliet, I know this is important to you, and I know how much you want to do this, but I want you to know that you can always come home- whenever you are ready.”  I had dismissively jumped up and assured him that there would be no coming home for the 18 months everyone was planning on, but 5 months later, as I rode down that escalator in that airport, I got the feeling that he had known something that I hadn’t, and I was grateful that his offer to accept me back home whenever I was ready still stood.

On the way home from the airport, we stopped at a church building to meet with the first counselor in the stake presidency so that I could be released- it was just the three of us.  During that meeting the counselor said something that would become incredibly important to me and that I have oft repeated to others: “You don’t owe an explanation to anybody.”

We then went home, where my mom was sitting in her nightgown watching TV.  She was happy to see me, but, like I said, five months really isn’t that long for parents of twenty-somethings, so it wasn’t really an emotional or exciting reunion.

I then called my good friend Ryan Shapiro.

Ryan: Hello?

Me: Hi Ryan.

Ryan: Who is this?

Me: You don’t know who this is?

Ryan: Oh my gosh…IT’S JULIET!!!!!!

And then the rejoicing continued.  He had missed me, and was thrilled that I was home.  What a comfort it was to be met with such joy.

Do you remember the friend I called from the airport before I left?  Well, next I decided to drive over to visit her and her family (husband, 4 kids, 1 niece who was living with them at the time).  I knocked on the door and was greeted with not just hugs and smiles, but, get this: a banner, balloons, and a cake.  They threw me a welcome home party!  I then was brought up to date on this new dance craze called the dougie and was wowed by a middle schooler’s ability to perfectly recite every word of a song called “Fergilicious”.

*****

I didn’t stay with my parents long.  Withing a few weeks, I had headed back up to Santa Barbara where I had lived for the three years prior to my mission.  This is also where just about all of my LDS friends lived.

I had been so nervous about coming home early, but not only did people nit shun me, but people weren’t even awkward around me!  They were happy to see me!  I was quickly invited to take over an open spot in an apartment of LDS girls, and they really were needing somebody to be the 1st counselor in relief society.  About a month passed between me being sent home early from my mission and my call to be in the RS presidency.  I was met with love, trust, and enthusiasm.

I heard an account of a girl who hadn’t met me hearing of my early return and speculating that I had done something wrong.  Apparently, another girl, who had known me for a few years scolded her with something like, “Don’t even say that! Juliet would never do something wrong on her mission!”  Bless her heart- she may have had more confidence in me than I deserved, but I am immensely grateful for the sentiment.

*****

Upon returning home, the depression let up immediately.  Suicidal thoughts no longer roamed in and out of my mind, and I felt capable, important, and happy.

Oftentimes, I hear that people come home early from their missions, for whatever reason, and never really make it back to church again, in part due to people being judgmental, isolating, and even cruel.

But let’s recap what happened to me when I returned home:

  • I was congratulated by a (granted, uninformed) stranger who made my taco.
  • I was told by a church leader that I didn’t owe anybody an explanation.
  • I was accepted whole-heartedly by my family.
  • I was thrown a party.
  • I was offered a place to live.
  • I was extended a leadership calling.
  • I was defended by people who knew me to people who didn’t.
  • I was met with joy, excitement, and, most of all, love.

At the place in my life where I thought I was going to see the worst of the Mormon people is where I found the very best of the Mormon people- kind, accepting, and eager to support and connect.  By the time this happened I had been a Mormon for about 5 years, but this was when I knew that the Mormons were mine, and that I was their’s. This was when I knew that they would stand by me no matter what.

And they, collectively and individually, are still standing by me.

*****

I received a blessing in the MTC from my district leader.  In it, he said, “Juliet, you mission will be a success in the eyes of the Lord.”  Well, you should know that I achieved a grand total of zero baptisms as a missionary.  That’s right- on paper, my mission was a waste of 5 months and few thousand dollars.

So how was it a success?  I believe that my mission was never supposed to be longer than five months.  Being a missionary was an amazing and life-changing experience, but far and away, hands down, without a doubt, the most valuable part of my mission was the end of my mission.

Before my mission I loved Jesus, loved the gospel, and liked the Church.  I still love Jesus best of all, and the gospel is still second on the list, but now I love, not just like, the Church.

*****

My God, who had seemed absent while I suffered in Kansas, surrounded me with compassion in California.  Every act of love shown by a fellow human felt like God’s hands reaching through them.

Thank you, God, for taking me out there.  Thank you, even more, for bringing me back home.

And that is the post I’m no longer afraid to write.

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The Physical Illness of Depression

These last two days, I have been on the struggle bus.  I usually to describe being like this as “being off”, “not feeling well”, or just “not feeling quite normal”.  Really, I’m depressed.  But I hate that word.

When I hear the word “depressed” I think of somebody who is unambitious, unmotivated, pessimistic, and most of all, somebody who is acted upon, instead of somebody who acts.  I know this isn’t fair- some of the greatest, kindest, most accomplished people I know have dealt or are dealing with depression- but the idea of associating that word with myself makes me feel so very small.

I keep asking myself, “What is wrong with you?!” I keep trying to reason myself into feeling better.  I keep calling people, hoping they will cheer me up- they try. But nothing really “snaps me out of it”.  I will snap out of it, but your guess is as good as mine regarding when or why.

This depression thing, is not just in my head, it’s in my whole body.  It’s not only a mental and emotional, but a physical condition.  Let me sum up my experiences over the last two days for you:

  •  I cried hysterically over something that was inconvenient. Like, barely able to speak because i was crying so intensely.  I knew it wasn’t worthy of such a reaction, but I just felt so out of control, and like my physical response was not aligning with my cognitive understanding of the situation.
  • I couldn’t focus in my institute class.  Like, I got up and left because I just couldn’t pay attention.
  • I am going through an episode of “I am the ugliest person alive and therefor nobody could ever love me.”
  • I just feel so mentally tired.
  • I don’t really feel like talking.
  • When I do talk, I often lose my train of thought, stammer, and take longer than normal trying to find the words to use to say what I mean.
  • I had to decide if I wanted to fill out a Health Insurance application today or in a few weeks after I begin my new job.  I ended up just taking a nap because just deciding when to do it was so overwhelming.
  • The missionaries came over for dinner and I hid in my room because I did not feel capable of acting happy enough to talk to them.
  • Walking 200 feet to my car feels exhausting.
  • Also, I haven’t taken a shower since Tuesday morning (It is now Thursday night).

The symptoms of me “not feeling normal” are a combination of the mental, the emotional, and the physical.

I know that if you were able to perfectly see my body, at the molecular level, something would look different today than it looked a week ago.  Being depressed is as much my choice as having a headache is my choice.

I wish that all the well-meaning friends I have were actually able to fix my mood- I wish it was just a matter of mood.  Understanding that depression is more than just a bad attitude is a little bit scary, because then you know you can’t just make up your mind to not be depressed anymore.

However, it is also a little bit liberating to know that depression is something that happens to you, and is not something you just are.

I really hate the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and I want to be loud and proud about the fact that people who suffer from depression are perfectly normal…as long as they are OTHER people.  I don’t feel so confident in sticking up for myself.

If you have or are experiencing depression, know that you are i great company, and that there is no shame in seeking help.  If you had an infection, you would have no reason to be ashamed of taking an antibiotic.  Likewise, there is no shame in seeking professional help for mental illness, including taking medication.

If you don’t know what depression is like, and want to know how to help someone you know who may be struggling with it, try reading this.

One last thing- I’ve found that, often, the quickest way for me to feel better is to take care of myself in some physical way- either by going for a walk, taking a nap, drinking water, or eating an actual meal.  Additionally, I’ve found that my negative moods tend to come at a certain point in my menstrual cycle.  These things suggest to me that the depression really is a mental manifestation of a physical illness.  When praying, talking, convincing, and meditating fail, just take a nap.

I

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