Tag Archives: Family

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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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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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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Being Honest About the “Gay Problem”

Upon joining the Church, I quickly learned that one of the people who had been most influential in my conversion was gay.  He was very active in the Church, coming from a very active, large, mostly typical LDS family.

We bonded over our different marginalizations- me being so new, and him being gay.  We both had a deep and sincere desire to be faithful and believing, and we both struggled at times to be so.  His friendship was a great blessing to me- I felt that I could tell him anything.  I hope that my friendship was a blessing to him as well.

But it’s a tricky course to navigate.  I knew that I believed in the Church, which taught that homosexual actions were unequivocally wrong.  I knew that I believed in the importance of the family and that gay couplehood did not fit into my picture of ideal familial life.  But I also knew that my friend was honestly attracted to men, and I knew that he didn’t choose to be so.  I knew that he tried for years to “pray the gay away” (it doesn’t work, FYI).  I knew that he was doing just about everything one is “supposed to” when attempting to rid themselves of an affliction or temptation.  And, although I professed to believe the opposite, I knew those things would never work.  The atonement can heal us physically and spiritually, give us strength, and refine our natures.  But it does not turn gay people straight.

I campaigned for California Proposition 8 in 2008.  I don’t really care if gay marriage is legal or not, and I didn’t really care then either.  But we received a letter from the First Presidency asking us to donate our means and our time to help it pass, and I did what i was asked.  For me it was about following the prophet, not about the “sanctity” of marriage.  When the Proposition passed, I felt relieved- not because it had been successful, but because then I would be free to go back to not caring about the issue.  I don’t feel bad about my involvement in that campaign, but I don’t feel good about it either.

My friend cut ties from the Church a few years out of high school.  This was a hard revelation for me, as he had been so paramount in the early development of my testimony.  I didn’t want to be Mormon without the support of one of my very dearest friends.  It is shaking when people stop believing, or when people stop pretending to believe.

I was, at first, uninterested in knowing about his “gay” life.  I still loved him, enjoyed him, and wanted him to be happy, but I didn’t feel like I could love the “gay” part of him.  I felt that it wasn’t part of who he really was, and the last thing I wanted to do was encourage it.  I found out that he had a steady boyfriend and did not want to know anything about him or about their relationship.

I don’t know what prompted it, but I can still remember the moment that I decided that I was okay with him being gay.  I realized that his boyfriend at the time was not the enemy- I realized that there was no “enemy”.  I wanted to know about their life together- not because I was in support of their relationship exactly- but because one of them was my friend, and anyone who mattered to him should matter to me.  Once I stopped feeling like I had to oppose their relationship in thought, word, and deed, I finally felt like I could just relax.

Even if I believe that homosexuality is immoral, what does it have to do with me if other people are active in a gay lifestyle?  If I know a couple who is having premarital sex, I don’t avoid acknowledging the entirety of their relationship, even though I may not support certain aspects of it.  And here is, in my opinion, one of our big cultural flaws when it comes to how we see homosexuality- given that homosexuality is sinful (for the sake of argument), we tend to define people who partake in it by that sin, as opposed to other sins, where we see people just as “dealing” with something.  For example, if I broke the word of wisdom by smoking pot, I don’t think people would label me as a “pothead”, destined to a life of munching and being mellow.  Smoking pot would be seen as a choice, not as a natural result of my very nature.  But in the LDS culture, we tend to act as if people who are gay are only gay- that it defines them, and that when thinking of them, the fact that they like other people of their same gender, should be the basis of our attitude towards them.  Being gay does not define anybody any more than being straight does.

So I learned about his boyfriend, and then their break-up, and then his new boyfriend.  I never was interested in their sex life…but I’m not interested in anybody’s sex life.

I always pictured, though, that my friend would come to me one day and invite me to his gay wedding.  I would then be obligated to express love for him, and good-will towards his partner, but decline the invitation.  it’s one thing to support people, it is another thing to support a ceremony that is directly symbolic of sin, after all.

Last year I met the man he planned on marrying.  And he is so wonderful- his fiance was kind, down-to-earth, grounded, and genuine.  He seemed to be not only a great complement for my friend, but someone who would be a great blessing to him.  I am grateful that they have found each other.

They were married in July.  I didn’t go.  I didn’t go because I was broke and was already obligated to take a few different our of state trips.  But I very much wanted to be there.  After all the years of preparing myself to tell him I didn’t want to be at his wedding, when it came down to it, I found myself tired of “standing up” for something that I didn’t even understand.  And my love for him and his now husband had a much greater pull on my heart than my allegiance to the idea of the traditional family.

This is not a proclamation that the LDS Church should redact it’s teachings on homosexuality.  It is also not a statement that homosexual actions are morally acceptable.

I do believe whole-hardheartedly in the teachings of the Church.  I do believe that God is very serious about the Law of Chastity and that one cannot keep that law while leading a gay lifestyle.  I do believe that families are meant to be our source of greatest happiness and that they cannot be formed or maintained with a homosexual couple the way they can be maintained with a heterosexual couple.

But I know that people don’t choose to be gay.  And asking them to live a complete life of celibacy seems like an order too tall for anybody to reasonably expect.

So this is my problem- I know what I believe, but the things I believe don’t quite match up right.  I think that most compassionate, thinking members of the church have this same problem to some degree- not supporting homosexuality, but also not feeling right away denying the opportunity to find love to those who are gay.

There really are no “good” options for a gay member of the church.  Life-long celibacy is not a good option.   Marrying a woman for the sake of having a family is not a good option.  Living a life of sin is also not a good option.

Whenever I declare that I support the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, I do it with a pang of “I’m so sorry” in my soul.

I have a handful of gay friends who grew up in the church.  I have a handful of other friends who I suspect are gay but have not yet admitted it.  One thing I want to apologize publicly for is if I have ever made any of these friends (or anybody else) feel like being gay made them less loved, less important, or less valuable to God or to the Church.  I don’t want any young man (or woman) to EVER feel “defective” for any reason, including being gay.

All I know is that I have a problem, a “gay problem”, and that I have no answers.  I want to do right by God, and I want to do right by my fellow man, and this is the only issue wherein I feel like I can’t quite do both.  Help me feel know how to feel like a good Christian and a good person at the same time.

 

 

 

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Gravy, Grilling, and Why I Love Mormon Men

Shortly after my baptism, a Young Women’s leader invited me to her home to view my very first general conference with her family (herself, her husband, and three young children).  She told me they would be having a big breakfast and watching church in their pajamas- my very first introduction to the custom I would participate in for the rest of my life.

Upon arriving at her home, she answered the door and we engaged in a few moments of polite conversation about her house, my Friday night, you know, the usual.  But something seemed amiss.  I could smell breakfast cooking (I still remember that scrambled eggs, bacon, and biscuits and gravy had been on the menu- and it smelled delicious) and kept anticipating her needing to scoot back to her kitchen to keep something from burning.  The sound of clanking kitchen tools then caught my attention- she wasn’t needing to worry about the eggs getting rubbery because someone else was doing the cooking.  “That’s strange,”  I thought, “She’s right here, her kids are too young to be in charge of a meal, and I didn’t think anyone else had been invited.”

After a few more moments, we migrated enough that the kitchen and it’s workings became visible, and what  I saw shocked me enough that I couldn’t keep from expressing my surprise.

“I didn’t know Mormon men cooked!”

There was her husband, with a towel over his shoulder, perhaps in an apron, stirring the gravy.

I am a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I really didn’t think Mormon men cooked, or cleaned, or cared much to help with the children in any kind of “housewife” way.  You may be surprised that I was willing to join a church where (I thought) the men were so unwilling to deviate from gender roles, but maybe we can just take it as a sign that I really did join the church for God, and not for guys.

The couple giggled at my surprise and the conversation moved on.  I have since learned that Mormon men do, in fact, cook.  And they fold the laundry, and take the noisy babies out of sacrament meeting, and do any other imaginable thing that needs to be done.

Now I don’t consider cooking, cleaning, or caring for children to be actions that make a man extra-special.  I expect any good man to be completely willing to do anything that needs to be done to help care for his home or his family, and I was raised with a father who, while being the primary breadwinner, cleaned and cooked regularly, without expectation of recognition or applause.

The thing that I love so much about Mormon men is not that they are willing to cook meals for their family- it is that they seem to be willing to do just about anything that needs to be done for anybody.  And they don’t do it to be self-serving- they simply do it because it needs to be done.

There are a lot of common positive attributes shared by LDS men- they’re hard-working, they’re kind, they’re self-regulating, they’re ambitious, and they’re valiant.  But the attribute of being willing to take personal responsibility in a broad spectrum of situations is what endears them most to me.

I once attended a “Linger Longer” at a singles ward in Utah- basically, an excuse to talk, eat, and generally not go home after church ends.  That day we were eating burgers, and they were delicious.  As I was walking to my car, I noticed the two young men standing at the grill, wearing suits and aprons, flipping burgers so that everyone inside could enjoy the fruits of their labors.  I remember there being snow on the ground and that it was cold- much too cold for them to be comfortable.  I’m sure these boys were thanked for their work (I certainly did), but I also know that many people enjoyed those burgers without acknowledging them or even being aware of what they were doing.  And that’s okay- they weren’t standing outside in the cold making our food for praise- they were just doing it because it needed to be done.  And they were doing it happily.

I had a vision of sorts in that parking lot that day.  I pictured them standing in front of a grill, in the cold, in their suits, with everyone else in the warm church building filling their bellies, for the rest of their lives.  Or maybe they are cleaning cheerios off of pews, or giving the young man in an other-wise inactive family rides to church for years and years, or jumping up to pass out the hymnbooks, or scraping the ice off of their wife’s car before she is even awake.

Maybe this characteristic of personal responsibility is so impressive to me because it stands on stark contrast to what the media tells us we should expect of men- that they are carnal, lazy, and only take care of business when they grow tired of the naggings of their wife.  I hope that no woman has accepted this as what she should expect of her man, and I hope no man has accepted this as what he should expect of himself.

Now, I know that there are LDS men who are complete jerks, to whom my admiration is not applied.  I also understand that I am being extremely general in describing a large and diverse population.  And maybe at some time in the future I will highlight one of the general flaws I’ve observed among Mormon men.  But with all of my women-centered ranting and raving, I need to make sure that people know that not only am I not a “man-hater”, but that I am a “man-lover”, in every sense of the word.  I love them, I admire them, and in total candidness, I need them.

I know that there are good men of every faith and of no faith at all, but my experience is with the Mormon ones, and I’ve never witnessed evidence that there is any better collective group.

I want to send a special message to the young single men of the Church: Please continue in faith and in devotion.  Your goodness and your efforts are being noticed.  Romantically, you are not “needed” by women, but you are so, so very wanted by them.  Nothing inspires me to be obedient, gentle, or devoted like the influence of a priesthood holder who is serious about the gospel.

Thanks, boys.  You’re amazing.

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Not Just to Young Men Only: On Being a Girl With a Porn Problem

On October 2, 1976, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed the men and young men of the Church in the the priesthood session of general conference.  That talk, titled “To Young Men Only” would gain a permanence in the church, being printed and distributed to young men in leaflet form for years to come.  The topic was chastity, with a specific call to abstain from the sins of masturbation and homosexuality.

This address has come under criticism from members and non-members, and surely the language used is different than what we would hear from the pulpit in the present day.  My aim, however, is not to disagree with the content of the talk but to call into question the prevalent attitude reflected in the very title- that issues of a sexual nature are of a concern for men, and for men only.

Pornography has been a hot topic for the past several years, as it should be.  Pornography is as evil as it is ensnaring.  It plays on the most sensitive human vulnerabilities and pollutes one’s self-control, self-worth, and self-confidence.  It dissolves familial trust and can cause the building blocks of a marriage to tumble.  Also, the treatment of women in the porn industry is positively deplorable.  (Can you imagine showing up to a regular day of work to be told how and with whom you are going to have sex with?)

They say that men are more responsive to images than women, and I am willing to accept that as generally true.  I am also willing to accept the idea that men are generally more sexually driven then women.  What I am not willing to accept though, in fact, what I know to not be true, is that women are sexless beings, so filled to the brim with virtue that sexual temptation only comes when it is to feel the love of a man, and never because women are themselves sexual.  Sexual feelings and temptations are normal for people in general, and shouldn’t they be?  If choosing chastity is one of the greatest signs of spiritual strength and self-mastery, then wouldn’t we all need to find ourselves at a place where that choice is not an easy one?

Why then, do we teach young men about pornography so differently than we teach young women?  Young men are frequently spoken to about pornography.  Most, if not all, of church-produced media on the issue choose males as the people with the struggle, and females who are influenced only indirectly, through the sins of their husbands and fathers.  Young men are typically given, along with the warning against sin, the affirmation that sexuality is in their nature, and that it is normal and acceptable to feel tempted.  On the other hand, young women (youth and YSA groups alike) sit in lessons that teach us how to deal with our boyfriend’s use of porn, not our own.  (I fully support the former, as a woman who is not addicted to porn but has dated porn users, but I am sure there have been girls in those classes who could have greatly benefited from a discussion on the latter.)  There has never been a general Relief Society or Young Women’s general talk on pornography, and sex is typically danced around very generally, with the seeming assumption that our goodness makes us immune to such things.

Some personal examples of how I’ve witnessed this attitude in other Latter-day Saints:

  • When I posted a request over social media to talk to women for whom this is an issue, a male friend replied that women didn’t struggle with porn, unless it was because of their husband’s or boyfriends struggle.
  • Once, at the inference that only boys wanted to look at porn, I piped up with, “or girls, they can struggle too.”  A young teenage girl in the room looked at me, bewildered and said, “girls can get addicted to porn?!”
  • I had a roommate in college who didn’t even know that women were ABLE to masturbate.

So imagine then, if you are a young woman who struggles with a pornography addiction (any kind of sinful sexual habit, really).   Here are two accounts of young women in the church who have struggled.

Jakilynne’s* Story:

The first time I saw pornography I was in 7th grade, so 12 or 13 when a male friend I was chatting with online showed it to me.  The transition from this first incident to it becoming a major issue in my life is kind of a blur, but once I saw it, it was like I “had” to see it again.  I had never felt those feelings or excitement in my body/brain before, and I liked the way it felt.  It was captivating, in a completely overpowering way.I thought I was the only one [the only woman with a porn habit].  I felt very alone, and honestly like I was a freak, I mean, I had my first orgasm before I had my first kiss.

I think church members could be a little bit more understanding, and remember that sin is not gender specific.
I think people in general are pretty uncomfortable talking about porn.  Any time there is a lesson on chastity, it’s like, “let’s just mention this porn thing because we should.”  I guess it’s just that people are uncomfortable, and I’m not about to raise my hand and share my personal experience on the topic.

I think people in general are more open to the idea that women struggle with this issue.  But maybe not that it’s anyone they know.

I have told very few people about this struggle.  I’ve thought about telling friends, but I have been in conversations with friends (girlfriends) and heard comments like “I just don’t understand how someone can be addicted to porn, it’s just so nasty, I just don’t get it.”

My bishop was the first person I ever told.  It took several years before I confessed because I had felt too ashamed. I had held a calling in my ward, been to the temple, and had been taking the sacrament, and I was extremely fearful of what would happen if I confessed. And at that time, there wasn’t much talk of women having issues with porn.

Telling your male bishop that you have this struggle with pornography, you kind of think, “how is this man going to understand where I’m coming from?” or “he is going to think I am some sort of sex heathen since I have this problem that ‘only men’ struggle with…that women aren’t supposed to have this problem.”  But none of my bishops have acted that way- they have all been extremely sympathetic in their understanding of how addictive it can be.

When I decided to confess it was because I saw it as an opportunity to see if the atonement was real and if it could really work in my life, like I had heard people testify of for my entire life.  I took a leap of faith and found that the Atonement does work and can enable you to change.   It still requires my best effort, and just because I might slip up, it doesn’t mean the atonement doesn’t work.

To other women who are struggling my advice is that there is no need to try and overcome this on your own.  There is nothing weak about seeking help.  Seek help immediately, do not procrastinate.  If you procrastinate, more than likely you will become engulfed in pornography, which is what Satan wants.  Don’t lose sight that you are His precious daughter and that you are of great worth.

 

Khristyna’s* Story:

I was with some friends and we followed a pop up when I was 12 or 13.  It would come and go it wasn’t like I would watch everyday.I like to pretend like I had some sort f control but I totally would isolate myself and volunteer to stay home alone so I could watch porn.  It is the most addictive thing in the world in my opinion. I didn’t think it was a big deal until it escalated things. It lead to a desire for promiscuity and the breaking of the law of chastity further

I would hear about it in church all the time, but I would just brush it off and justify it, making it seem like it was the same thing as how some members choose not to drink caffeine and some do. I blocked It out for the most part, to be completely honest. Someone at church brings up porn and my ears just shut off.

I was still in my teens when my mom caught me.  She was totally shocked, disappointed and confrontational.

I’ve only told 2 friends and my bishop. Bringing it up and talking to my bishop was horrendous…. Like not only was it embarrassing but it wasn’t exactly something I ever even thought women struggled with!  I thought I was a weirdo for watching porn. I feel like there is such a heavy burden on a woman’s virtue and not so much a man’s… that the attitude is definitely kind of  like “oh you’re a whore stop watching that” and then when it’s boys “boys will be boys”. People should realize that porn isn’t just a boy or mans issue that it effects women… and don’t alienate people that share.

I first talked to my bishop just last year, when I decided that I really wanted to be temple worthy.  That meeting consisted of a lot of cry and feeling like the most useless human being ever.  I felt this way because I wasn’t the cookie cutter I didn’t fit the mold and I didn’t ever think to apply the atonement But my bishop was amazing.  He helped me utilize the atonement and I regained a lot of my self-worth.  I have been porn-free for several months now.

 

There are (at least) three negative consequences that come when we do not acknowledge that women have issues with porn:

  1. The women who do struggle feel especially embarrassed and overwhelmed, often feeling like they are some kind of a freak.
  2. This feeling of embarrassment keeps them from seeking out the help they need, perpetuating the cycle
  3. Because they tend not to be vocal, people are generally less aware that it is an issue, and resources are not provided for women in the same way they are provided for men.
  4. Women, especially young women, even those who are not trapped in any kind of sinful sexual habit, associate sexual urges with feelings of guilt, since we do not validate sexual temptation in young women.

It is kind of a cycle- women are not open about their situations because they think they are the only one.  And they think they are the only one because nobody else is being open.  I am  not suggesting that anybody should advertise their addiction over Twitter, but nobody should feel so ashamed of a sin that they are not willing to be open with those who are absolutely closest to them, and certainly not with their priesthood leaders.

I’ve heard talk lately about how “pornography is even a problem for women these days.”  While this is a step in the right direction, it is still problematic for two reasons.  The first is that women have been struggling with porn for years.  The only difference is that now people are talking about it.  But it is not a new temptation.  The second is the implication that pornography has become so evil and so widespread that even the previously-immune gender is now taking part in it.  As I said earlier, I am willing to concede that women are less sexually driven than men, but is not as if we have a stone fortress built around our cerebral reward system.

My topic has been pornography in the narrow sense- porn you look at.  However, other kinds of pornography can be as addictive while seeming to be more innocent.  The sole purpose of romance novels is to be sexually exciting (if you don’t believe me, read up on some of their ghastly story lines).  Even the magazines placed at eye-level in the grocery stores contain graphic and detailed descriptions of sexual acts.  We should also be careful with how we use our social media- especially SnapChat, which I like to call “Satan’s App of Teenage Sin”.  It can be awfully tempting to send and receive exciting fleeting images that can’t be saved. (And we all know that they actually can be saved).

The difference between visual porn and these other types is that visual porn always involves other people committing sin (the people you are watching).  Also, visual porn often ventures into the extreme and even depraved, ruining a person’s healthy sexual expectations.  Still, anything that is filmed, photographed, drawn, or written that is intended to be sexually erotic or arousing, and even some things that are not intended to be so, can be addictive.  We need to broaden our perspective on what counts as pornography, be wary of it in all of it’s forms, and teach our young people to do the same.  There are many young women who have no interest in visual pornography, but would have a very hard time putting down a book that encourages sexual fantasy.

I have had a lot of male friends confide in me the details of their pornography habits, usually calling it an addiction.  Many of these men have been returned missionaries, active in the church, and absolutely respectful in their actions towards the women in their lives.  As difficult as the struggle is for them, I always knew it would be harder for a girl.  I’m not trying to play a game of one-upping, and I am not saying that it is at all easy to be a man with a porn addiction, but I am asserting that our cultural attitudes toward it complicates a woman’s position in ways that it would not complicate a man’s position.

So what is the solution?  Well, for once, I have some ideas.  Here are some ways we can de-gender the concept of porn addiction:

  • Don’t make generalizations about porn users. (ex. they’re perverts, they’re all horny little boys)
  • Don’t assume that you know whether or not a person struggles with it.
  • In lessons on chastity, acknowledge that nobody is immune.  Do not imply that a woman being addicted to porn would be the exception to an otherwise male issue.
  • Teach young women and as well as young men that sexual feelings are normal and healthy in both genders.
  • Never dismiss sexual sin in males as being expected or excusable.
  • Be open to using females in hypothetical examples or discussions. (ex. “One day Susie was on the internet when she saw a pornographic pop-up.  What should Susie do next?)

Here are some ways we can minimize the effect porn has on our lives:

  • Educate our children about their bodies, about sex, and about pornography as early as they are able to understand.
  • Generally be honest with ourselves in regards to our vulnerabilities, and set up defenses accordingly.
  • Trust our priesthood leaders and be willing to talk to them.
  • Strive to be honest with our families.
  • Be understanding of those we love who do struggle.
  • Educate ourselves.

If you are a young woman, or a young man, or anybody who is struggling with an addiction to pornography in any form, please know that there is hope!  You do not have to overcome this on your own- Christ can help you, because, through his atonement, he has overcome it already.  Your porn habit has already been defeated…the only thing you need to do is attach yourself to Christ so that you can taste of that victory.  I know that this is as hard to do as it is easy to say, but I know it’s true.

And for the rest of us, let’s just try to be a little bit more sensitive with our language and with our assumptions.  We can’t know for sure who is and who is not struggling, but we can make sure that those around us know that we will love them and support them regardless of their sins.  And please, the next time porn comes up, don’t point to the boys automatically, as there may be a shameful and lonely girl in your midst.

 

(*Overly-spelled UT names used in place of actual names.)

Some resources:

Overcoming Pornography (official LDS website)

Combating Pornography (official LDS website)

Fight the New Drug (lots of great educational resources)

By The Light of Grace (the blog of an LDS woman struggling with pornography)

Beggar’s Daughter (the blog of a Christian woman who is a former porn addict)

Dirty Girl Ministries (Christian ministry, specifically for women with porn and other sexual addiction issues)

r/pornfree (Very supportive, anonymous, non-religious community for those trying to quit porn)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Things Things That Help Me Love Being Single

I really like being single.

When I am dating, engaged, and married, I will probably like those things too.  And I will probably blog respective lists like these when I get to those points.  But for now, being single is what I can testify to.  As you will gather, this post isn’t about anybody’s set of circumstances being better than anybody else’s, but about being happy no matter what.  We all live such abundant lives-  how can we not be grateful?

 

1.  The knowledge that I am a whole person.  I get tempted to sometimes feel like I need another person to complete me, or to complete my life.  Not so.  God didn’t make me with any missing peices.  As my neighbor always told each of her grandchildren in order to help them believe that they were the favorite,

“You are perfect, whole, and beautiful.”

2.  Helping to mother people who need mothering.  Sometimes, this means helping to mother other people’s little children, but usually it doesn’t.  Usually it’s someone whose need for nurture and compassion is a little bit less obvious, like your visting teacher (or, heck, maybe even your teachee), your bishop (or maybe your bishop), or the new member of your ward (or maybe an old member of your ward).  I’m not saying that marriage and literal motherhood or fatherhood prevent one from caring for others, and I’m not saying that mothering people is a way of “making up” for not having children of my own to mother.  I’m saying that taking care of people fills space in our heart that will always need filling and will always add richness to our lives.

3.  My ability to ignore anyone who gives me trouble about it.  I think I’ve actually lucked out in this department- I rarely get hassled for being single.  But when it does happen, it comes in the form of something like,

“Did you know that your ovaries start producing rotten eggs on your 23rd birthday?”

JANETTE IKZ, one of my favorite spoen word artists explains her response so eloquently in the piece titled “I Will Wait For You.”  She says,

“No longer will I be weighed down by friends and family talks about concerns for my biological clock when I serve the Author of Time!”

Our family and friends are always well meaning, but sometimes don’t quite understand what is actually helpful.  It’s not up to us to correct them or shut them up, but it is up to us to decide how we respond to and internalize comments made by others concerning our position in life.

4.  The fact that Mother Theresa was single.  And she is my idol.  Also,  this lady. (Make sure your English captions are turned on unless you speak fluent French.)

5.   Enjoying and capitalizing on the freedom of singlehood.  I can do whatever I want, and I answer to almost no one.  This is great!  I love being able to take weened trips at the last minute.  I love being able to spend my money on things that I want without having to weigh it against the wants of another person.  At dinner, I just eat what sounds good.  On the weekends, I just do what I feel like.  Now, obviously, life has it’s demands, but no one is going to be hurt if I decide to go to a 9:30 pm movie on a week night.

6.  Serving in the church.  For this, I am going to have to refer back to my girl JANETTE IKZ again.  At the end of her aforementioned piece on singlehood (which, by the way, you really should go watch- my quotations do it no justice), she makes what I think is her most powerful statement, which isn’t so much about being single, but about being attached to God:

“But to my Father, my Father who has known me before I was birthed into this earth, only if you should see fit.  I desire your will above mine so even if you call me to a life of singleness, my heart is content, with you the one who was sent.  You are the greatest love story ever told, the greatest love ever known.  You are forver my judge and I am forever your witness, and I pray that I will always be found on a mission about my Father’s business.

Personally, there is nothing that makes me feel more whole than the knowledge that I am doing what Jesus would would do if he was walking in my shoes, especially when it comes to administering to the children of God and to the affairs of His kingdom.

7.  Doing things that are only available while I’m single.  Like flirting.  Or going out of country to teach for a year.  Or going on a mission (or maybe even another mission).  It’s not about the joys or privleges of singlehood being better than the joys and privleges of non-singlehood, but about the idea that life passes quickly and the journey is full of experiences that will only be available to us for a short time.  Capitalizing on time-bound opportunities will help us live a full, happy life no matter what circumstance we’re in.

What helps you love being single?  Or dating, or engaged, or married, or parenting?


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Seven Things You Shouldn’t Say to the Depressed Person You Love (And What to Say Instead)

Anyone who has a loved one who struggles with depression probably knows the feeling of trying to help them, but having it seem like everything you say either falls on deaf ears or just makes things worse.  I was actually unfamiliar with this feeling until about a year ago when a good friend of mine fell into a deep depression that was pretty uncharacteristic for them.  I tried to be compassionate, to cheer them up, to tell them I understood, to give helpful suggestions, to do anything that would help them suffer a little bit less.  I was at a loss and hated feeling so useless.

And then it hit me: I’ve been making people feel this way on a regular basis for years.  As a matter of fact, you may be looking at this post because you want to understand me, myself, better.  Understand that I never realized that my depression had this negative affect on others until recently.  I had (have?) the frame of mind that I wasn’t important enough for this to happen.  Who was (am?) I to think that people had any reason to be emotionally invested in my well-being?

I can’t say that most people with depression feel this way or similar to it, but I do know this- depression causes you to see the world in a jacked up way. (I only use such mild language in order to keep the blog PG.  All of my unfiltered feelings towards mental illness include profanity.)  This is why you might feel like you’re not “getting through”- you are dealing with somebody who has a totally different understanding of what is real.

The Room

I don’t know if your depressed love one (YDLO) is very much like me, but I would imagine they are at least a little bit like me, and I hope that what helps me will be able to help them.  I am in no way trying to generalize the feelings, situation, or needs of people who suffer from depression.  Everybody will respond differently to different things.

Don’t say: You don’t really have it that bad.

Instead, try: I wish I better understood what you are dealing with.

Never, ever, minimize emotional suffering.  Is it possible that they are just a little bit insecure and fishing for attention?  Sure.  But it’s also possible (and more likely) that they are not exaggerating any of their feelings or being dishonest about their perceived circumstances.  Being dismissive about what they are experiencing is likely to make them feel even more distant from the people and the experiences that have the potential to be relieving to them.  A variation of what not to say is, “There are kids starving in Africa, y’know.”  Comparison between others and ourselves rarely, if ever, promotes true joy.

Don’t say: Count your blessings!

Instead, try: That festival (or vacation or museum or amusement park or whatever) that you went to on Saturday, what was your favorite part?

I’m so tired of people telling me to count my blessings.  It got old about 5 years ago (I remember when I started resenting it- I’m not make up an arbitrary time frame.)  But I know that a happy heart is a grateful heart, and that recognizing the good in life can help YDLO tip their “outlook on life” scales back to balanced.  The trick is to make it organic.  When someone tells me to count my blessings, what I hear is, “I’m tired of talking to you, so I’m just going to say something that sounds good that I’ve probably never done myself.”  But when I’m engaged in a natural discussion about the events of my life, I am able to think about and sort out positive things in a way that feels real.

Don’t say: You should go for a walk.

Instead, try: I’m going to go feed the ducks at the park after work.  You’re on my way.  Can I pick you up?

Would a walk make YDLO feel better?  Could they benefit from the exercise and the Vitamin D?  Probably, but they don’t care.   Other things they don’t feel like doing are working in the garden, painting a picture, or going to look at the puppies in the pet shop.  These are things that healthy-minded people enjoy, but people with depression often lose interest in such activities.  You may as well tell them to go move a pile of bricks- they don’t feel like doing it, and they probably won’t do it.  But you’re right- they do need to get out of the house.  So make it easy for them.  Pick them up, do something you know they enjoy.  But (and this is a big but) don’t give the impression that you’re going out of your way for them.  Just act like you were doing it anyway, and make it easy for them to join you.

Don’t say: You should read Proverbs 3:5-6.

Instead, try:  I was feeling pretty bummed the other day and I came across a scripture that really helped me.  Can I tell you about it?

I really don’t like it when people prescribe me scriptures to read that are supposed to make me feel better, because I usually already know them.  I like the scriptures.  I’m a gospel teacher.  Trust me, I’ve made lists.  But what I don’t know is the experience of others, and I could never be so cruel as to tell a person that they can’t share something that is important to them with me.  This gives the opportunity for the Spirit to testify of things that my heart needs to hear.  This principle applies with anything you may find inspirational (quotes, documentaries, books, works of art), and not just religious text.

Don’t say: Things will get better.

Instead, try: Can I tell you about something that happened to me?  (That something being a time you experienced relief from a period of hopelessness or despair.)

I’ve become so calloused to people telling me that “things will get better”.  Especially because things haven’t been getting better.  This has less to do with depression and more to do with my situation in life (it is disappointing and I feel like the failure of the universe), but I still think it’s relevant.  Just saying things will get better can sound very dismissive.  Again, it’s one of those things that is fine and even helpful to say to a mentally healthy person, but YDLO isn’t mentally healthy.  However, I like hearing about how people have overcome hopeless or desperate situations.   This little bit of “evidence” can be just the hope I need to move forward.

Don’t say:  Let me know if there’s something I can do to help.

Instead, try: What can I do to help?  Anything at all.

When you feel like a crazy person, it’s hard to ask for help.  It’s not as simple as, “Can we use your truck to pick up my new fridge?”  It’s more like, “Can you help me try to fix everything that’s wrong about me that I don’t even fully understand myself?”  It’s awkward to ask for help, because you don’t really know what you need, you just know that you’re not okay.  It can really benefit YDLO to help them understand that they are not annoying you or inconveniencing you by asking for help.  You can do this by requesting to help and making it as clear as you can that you really are helping because you want to, not because you feel obligated.

And please, please, please don’t ever say: Smile! Because, really:

Advice Mallard

Instead, try: Want to go get ice cream cones?

I saw the above meme on AdviceAnimals a few days ago.  The Advice Mallard gives good but surprisingly necessary advice, and this might be the best advice he has ever given anyone.  When you tell someone to “smile”, you may as well be saying, “Please, just deal with whatever is bothering you quietly and alone.”  I have a naturally frowny face (my lips turn downwards) and I get told to “smile!” all the time.  I understand that people think they’re doing me a favor, but they’re not.  I get told to “smile!” even when I’m fine- even when I’m happy.  When I’m happy it’s a bit annoying.  When I’m depressed, it just…is awful.  Instead, ask YDLO if they want an ice cream cone, because:

Advice Mallard

(Okay, almost always.)

The reason it is so hard to communicate with YDLO is that their perception of reality is off.  What seems obvious to you might seem like a fantasy to them.  I know this is frustrating, and I know that you don’t understand.  You can’t understand.  Even if you have experienced depression yourself, it affects everybody differently.

For those of you who have found success in communicating with YDLO, what has worked for you?  What needed to change?  Or, if you are the depressed love one, what do you wish the people in your life understood a little bit better about you?

I really hope this has been helpful.  It’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve ever written, but I felt like I needed to write it because I don’t want people to have to suffer or feel alone.

I am so grateful for my friends and family who have been supportive of me even when I wasn’t particularly responsive or easy to understand.  I was never trying to be difficult.  As a matter of fact, I was doing the very best I could with what my mind gave me.

Even if you feel like you’re not “getting through”, please don’t stop trying.  Chances are that one day YDLO will feel better, and you will both be so glad you stood by them when they get to that point.

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