I was enraged today in sacrament meeting. I was proud of myself for identifying the feeling. It started as a sick depressed sensation. I get that feeling often when I am angry because I turn the anger in on myself automatically. Recognizing anger has been difficult for me to learn to do. Correction, recognizing the feeling before it engulfs me in a world class melt-down has been hard to do. After I identified the feeling, I realized that I was really, really ticked off. There are reasons to be angry, and I was angry for a good reason.
Today in church I was actually able to listen to most of the talks. With a three year old, that doesn’t always happen. The guy that spoke is a pillar in the church. He has a big calling and is very important and was saying some stuff that he obviously believed was true and that we all needed to know. Too bad it was completely false and harmful to people like me. I turned to Ben and said, “I am really really mad.” He gave me a quizzical look. I said, “Listen to this guy! I can’t believe he’s saying this stuff.” The message didn’t enrage Ben at all. We talked about it for some time this evening trying to parse out what exactly was said and what his intended message was. I’m not passing judgement on the guy who spoke today in sacrament meeting, but I am not going to let myself get depressed over it. I heard the message I heard and it triggered an avalanche of pain rooted in years of experiences related to this issue. I’ve heard and believed it in the past and it kept me from getting the help I needed.
His talk was on temple worship, which is fine. In making his point about the importance of temple worship in gaining knowledge he started going off on worldly knowledge. He went so far as to say that all knowledge and philosophies of the world are at best tainted and at worst evil. He made the case that everything that we need to know can be learned from God in the temple or from the church.
This fearful view of “outsiders” is in vogue politically now with the rise of Donald Trump, but has always held a seductive appeal. “Only trust the people who are like you. Don’t branch out and learn something new from one of God’s children who doesn’t look like you. God only exists in this space. Everything you need to know is right here. If we don’t understand it, we can demonize it and pretend the problems don’t exist.”
The thing is, there are problems in the church membership, and they aren’t going away. Look at me. I was pretty much a model LDS girl growing up. I went to church every week, my family read scriptures and had family home evenings. I didn’t have sex until I was married in the temple to my returned missionary husband. I never drank or smoked or even associated with anyone who did those things. I went to college in Elementary Education like a good LDS woman. Every principle I was ever taught by my church leaders or my parents, I lived to the best of my ability. When I transgressed the law, I repented. Why then did I, at the age of 22, find myself weeping on the phone with my mom, secreted in the institute building of Utah State University? Why was I frightened? Why did I want to kill myself? “This shouldn’t be happening. I’m a good girl who makes good choices. I was supposed to be happy. That was how it was supposed to work,” I thought. That was what I was taught. That was kind of my “rock bottom” and after that, I started earnestly trying to treat my depression.
Perhaps you could say that I didn’t read my scriptures enough. I wasn’t saying enough prayers, or perhaps they weren’t heart-felt enough. Perhaps my weekly trips to the temple were insufficient. I should have been engaging in acts of service. That was what I had done wrong to deserve to feel the way I did. You can tell yourself that, but the truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything my leaders told me to do, and I still became depressed. That was because the knowledge and treatment I needed wouldn’t be found within the church. The church, as in the members, were actually part of my problem. They didn’t know what I needed and often gave me the opposite. It was outside the church in those places I had been taught to fear and distrust, outside of the expected realm of tidy answers and easy solutions, that I would find the treatment I needed to recover from my depression. It was there that God led me, first to my bishop, then to LDS social services, and eventually to where I am today, under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist. I still have depressive episodes, like I am recovering from now, but overall my depression is under control.
Imagine this stupid scenario with me please. A woman limps into the temple with a broken leg. She prays to God that he will take the pain away and heal her leg. Next to the temple there is a hospital filled with competent medical professionals who have the knowledge and skills to help her solve her problem. Don’t you think God would gently tell that sister, “You need to go next door. They have what you need.” Even if the doctor doesn’t have a temple recommend, even if he is a horrible person that is bound for hell, he probably still knows what to do to help set and heal a broken leg better than anyone in the temple. Why come to God when he has already given his healing knowledge to the whole world and you choose to remain clueless because you are afraid?
This stupid scenario is actually a pretty good replication of what we do with mental health. Want to know the best way to discipline your kids? Why don’t you do it the same way you were raised by your parents? You know they didn’t do a very good job. You grew up resentful of their regular beatings, but you can just tweak it a little. Never mind that millions of dollars have been invested into research on the subject, and probably thousands of scholarly articles have been published on the subject. Don’t pollute your mind with the philosophies of men! Instead, proceed in your ignorance. Die of thirst while swimming in clean water. That’s what God wants.
Having problems in your marriage? Don’t go to marriage counseling. Never mind that scientists actually study this stuff and your marriage is not the first marriage to have problems in the history of the world. Don’t bother to benefit from the knowledge that has been accumulated by people a lot smarter than you are. By all means, keep plodding on the way you are. God wants us to suffer rather than open our eyes and see the truth staring at us in the face.
Having symptoms of panic, anxiety, or depression? Have suicidal thoughts? That means that you really are the pathetic human being Satan is saying that you are. You need to repent! That’s the ticket. Never mind what you are repenting for. Your feelings are evidence of your sin. Don’t go get help from the people who are actually trained to treat this stuff. Go to the temple. Read your scriptures. Keep doing the church thing and tell yourself its working. Until it isn’t, and you are dead.
Think I’m exaggerating? You can die of a lot of stupid things that are completely treatable and preventable. If you decide your strep throat doesn’t need antibiotics, things can go badly pretty quickly. If you have a biological condition like diabetes, or severe food allergies, if you don’t treat your condition, you could easily die. I’m not being hyperbolic here. Untreated mental health maladies can be fatal. In fact, Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. In fact, in children aged 10-17, it is the leading cause of death. I’m not saying that the church is to blame for children killing themselves, but couldn’t we be doing more as members to identify and help these people? Making church echo chambers that keep repeating harmful messages like the one I heard today isn’t helping the situation.
I read this article from the Salt Lake Tribune that interviews a suicide researcher in Utah. The saddest thing I read is that the statistics show that many of the children who kill themselves were getting treatment but then felt embarrassed and stopped. Those kids didn’t have to die. They could have been treated, but they didn’t want the stigma. Why do we still have stigma against mental health? Why can’t people get help for valid emotional and mental wellness problems without being ashamed of it? We need to stop this crap right now.
Abuse is real. Mental illness is real. This stuff is awful and it’s in the church. As conditions get worse in the world, things are going to get worse. Untreated mental and emotional problems are not going to solve themselves. We need to do more than just treat mental illness, we need to create an environment of mental wellness. We need our churches to be bully free zones where judgement and cruelty are addressed and dealt with. We need to teach and model loving and inclusive behavior toward those who are different from ourselves. We need to study the social sciences and integrate the truths that are there to make us more resilient to the messages of Satan. Mentally healthy environments don’t just happen, they are nurtured and designed with diligent care. Like a garden they must be frequently weeded and fertilized for mental wellness to thrive. There are too many cliques and too much posturing among our members. That is the kind of environment Satan loves. It breeds mental illness like a petri dish. Big sigh! My anger has been exhausted.
Last night I had a dream that I was with my parents and some other people. Suddenly, a unicorn came streaking across the sky. In all it’s white, glittery, magical glory it flew straight toward the sheer wall of a nearby mountain. It blasted into a fiery explosion, spewing wreckage all around and leaving several beams of red light burned into the side of the mountain. I turned in shock and horror to my parents. They hadn’t seen the unicorn at all. I explained what I had seen and they dismissed it as nothing. I pointed to the fiery pillars on the mountain, but they were unconvinced. I ventured out into the brush looking for evidence to support my claims. Eventually, I came across a rainbow. I brought it back to show them, but it was nothing but a marshmallow rainbow, like a giant Lucky Charm. It even had a few bites taken out of it, so it didn’t seem very credible. I looked closer at the beams of red light and noticed that within each fiery column, there was a red ruby. I would go and find the rubies and bring them back to show my parents.
Our Sunday School lesson today was on Daniel. He was a legendary dream interpreter, of course, and I couldn’t help but wonder what interpretation he would give me for my dream. I am not so gifted as he was, but lucky for me, I have Google. Here is what I came up with.
The unicorn is a symbol of hope, insight, and high ideals; of gentleness, power, and purity. I was the only person present who witnessed the death of this beautiful beast. It was not so much sad, but shocking and disturbing. I found a rainbow and brought it back as evidence of what had happened. Rainbows symbolize a bridge to the divine. Unfortunately, my dream self devalued the rainbow as did those I showed it to. Still, I knew what I had seen and I felt compelled to witness to it, even if it meant climbing a steep mountainside and braving the fiery unknown in search of rubies. Rubies are symbols of spiritual knowledge, so perhaps my quest to prove the witness of the unicorn will result in me finding spiritual knowledge. Above all, what I had seen seemed vitally important and I needed to tell people about it. Maybe that’s what I’m doing. I’m shouting from my blog that I see hope, insight, and high ideals crashing in an inferno of ignorance. I see gentleness, power, and purity failing to bring peace to a world in pain. Yet in that desolation there are gems to be found for those who brave the mountain to find them. Let’s go mountain climbing!